It's a little hard to see with his catcher's mask on, but Adam Rojas' eyes do in fact light up when he sees an opponent trying to steal a base.
"I want them to steal because I know I have a good chance of getting them because of my pop time," said the St. Charles East senior catcher. "I get excited when they steal."
Rojas gunned down runners trying to steal second in both the first and fifth innings. Those were two of defensive highlights in a well-played game by the Saints, who won 4-2 at Kaneland Saturday for their eighth straight victory.
The Saints also got hot at the end of the 2013 regular season and rode that all the way to a third-place finish in the Class 4A state tournament.
They are hoping history repeats itself.
"It's a big win, keeps our streak going," said Rojas, one of just 2 returning starters. "We're playing strong going into the playoffs which we did last year too. Hopefully it is the same outcome or even better. We're playing really well right now."
Rojas certainly is playing a key role in the Saints' charge. St. Charles East coach Len Asquini complimented not only his backstop's ability to throw out runners but also the way he throws behind runners to keep them close.
"He throws back to bases as well," Asquini said. "He keeps their secondary leads short. He's a threat there which helps our defense. Then maybe we can turn a double play. He's certainly been a threat for us."
Rojas said he used to play a good deal of shortstop in addition to catching until he started struggling fielding ground balls. That might have been a blessing in disguise because he's found quite a home behind the plate.
Rojas says his time getting the ball from home to second is consistently 1.8 to 1.85 seconds. That doesn't leave runners much time to get there safely.
"I work on it a lot, a lot of long toss," Rojas said. "The throws to the bases comes naturally. They (opponents) start to learn a little and don't get off the base as much. But it helps us because if there's a base hit in the gap and they are close to the base. I just see if they are off a little and give a little sign to the first baseman or whatever base it is."
While St. Charles East (21-8) played a pretty flawless defensive game Saturday, Kaneland (14-13) continued its defensive woes. Errors led to all four Saints runs, capping off a frustrating week that saw the Knights lose a 1-game lead in the Northern Illinois Big XII East race with three losses to Morris.
"We'd like a mulligan," Knights coach Brian Aversa said of the past week. "It's a combination of bad offense and bad defense is not conducive to winning. We're really working on our approach. Some of our guys got it and some of them don't. We're going to figure out who has it."
The Saints took a 1-0 lead in the second, a rally started by an infield error. After a Rojas single moved Jake Asquini to third, the Knights couldn't come up with a hot shot by Jake Milosch to third base and Asquini scored for a 1-0 lead.
The Knights tied the game in the fourth. Curtis Thorson reached and stole second, took third on Nick Stratman's single and scored on a ground ball to first base by Danny Hammermeister.
The turning point came in the top of the fifth after Rojas singled and Milosch walked. Reid Olson bunted and on the throw to first to get Olson, he collided with second baseman Austin Wheatley covering first. The ball rolled down the right field line and two runs scored on the play. Brannon Barry extended the lead to 4-1 with an RBI groundout to second.
Joe Panico led off the Knights fifth with a single only to be thrown out stealing second by Rojas. The only other run came in the bottom of the seventh on Stratman's second home run of the year -- and just the third for the entire Knights team -- a rocket to left field.
"Their catcher has a great arm," Aversa said. "We had to take some chances to try to get some guys around. They have been executing and we haven't."
The Saints used four different pitchers -- Austin Regelbrugge, Mike Boehmer and Kyle Cook each threw two innings before Mike Vyzral pitched the seventh.
"I like what our kids did on the mound today," Len Asquini said. "They are all fresh for next week.
"Maybe not the greatest approaches every at-bat but we put it together for a couple and were able to take advantage of that one mistake on the bunt. That helped us a ton."
Colton Fellows pitched the first five innings for the Knights allowing 5 hits and 1 walk but was hurt by the 4 unearned runs.
"We have a week to figure things out," Aversa said. "Try some different lineups. We're going to mix things up, try some guys in different positions. We're in a position we can do that now. We don't have to worry about conference, we don't have to worry about our record. We can go out and find people who are going to play ball in the regionals. That's what we are preparing for. We've got some work to do and we're going to do that work and find out who is going to be able to succeed."