How low can they go?
If this were the Limbo, Andrew Mikusa and Dom DiProva would be inches from the ground.
As pitchers, that's about how low their earned run averages are this season. And as they try to get wins on the mound for Grayslake North, which is gunning for its first regional title in school history this spring, they're both shooting for even lower.
"That's definitely something I'm working for," DiProva said. "I think I can get it lower."
DiProva, a junior, has been hovering at about a 1.00 ERA all season. Mikusa, a senior, is even lower, at about 0.70.
"I'm proud of my ERA," Mikusa said. "In my first game of the season, I didn't let up any runs and I think that's what I keep thinking about when I pitch. I never want to let up any runs."
Mikusa and DiProva, who both happen to be lefties, have been a godsend for Grayslake North, particularly in a season in which runs have been tough to come by. In recent weeks, the Knights have been averaging only about 3 runs per game. But with the stinginess and efficiency of Mikusa and DiProva at the top of the rotation, Grayslake North has managed about a .500 record. With those two, sometimes it doesn't take much offense to win games.
"We got off kind of slow with our bats and we don't always get the big hits we need," Mikusa said. "But our pitching has been phenomenal and our defense behind it has been really good, so we've been in a lot of really close games."
Mikusa and DiProva have handled the pressure of those close games with unwavering confidence. Both have worked on that part of their game as much as anything.
"I'm a lot more confident this year than last year," Mikusa said. "As a senior, I feel like I know my role better now. That gives me a lot of confidence to go out and be more aggressive and try to throw strikes on every pitch.
"I go out there and think that I'm not going to let anyone on (base). It's not a cockiness, it's just an attitude you have to have if you're going to be confident out there."
One of Mikusa's most effective games came recently against Cary-Grove. He had 12 strikeouts and had his trademark curveball working to perfection.
DiProva says much of his confidence comes from his teammates and the defense behind him.
"This is the first year I'm getting to play with this defense behind me and it's been really good because we have a really good team," DiProva said. "I just try to pound the zone and get up early in the count so that I can use my curveball or change-up to get a strikeout. But sometimes, I just pitch to contact because most likely, with our defense, we're going to get an out."
When opponents do manage to get on base, both Mikusa and DiProva say their mentality on the mound changes instantly. They dig in their heels even more.
"I focus in and just go to another level," Mikusa said. "I just kind of zone in even more when there's a man in scoring position. I feel the need to perform even better then."
Says DiProva: "I turn it into a different mode when runners get on. It's my mission not to let them score."
Much of the success of Mikusa and DiProva is talent and will. But both admit a big part of it is the fact that they are left-handed.
"People are always saying that lefties are pretty special and I think that's true," DiProva said. "Lefties are rare. There aren't many of us, and hitters aren't used to facing us.
"I think (Mikusa) and I try to use that to our advantage."
So does Grayslake North coach Andy Strahan, who can use Mikusa and DiProva back-to-back against the same team in important two-game series.
"It can be hard for teams to catch a break if they've got to go against lefties two games in a row," Mikusa said. "You've got a lefty one day and a lefty the next. That's an advantage for us."
It's an advantage that the Knights are trying to enjoy while it still lasts. After all, it's not every year that a team is blessed with two top-flight left-handers who boast anemic earned runs averages.
"Yeah, that's probably just a big coincidence," DiProva said. "But it's also just that we're both really good pitchers. And we're doing what we're supposed to be doing."
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