To be the best you have to beat the best.
The phrase certainly works at this time of year.
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Illinois High School Association baseball tournament time is here and our Tri-Cities teams head into this week's regional action with optimism that they can keep their seasons going well into the month of June.
No area team has played better this season than Batavia (28-3-1).
Coach Matt Holm's Bulldogs, who face Bartlett Wednesday at the York regional, captured the Upstate Eight Conference River Division championship and finished their regular season on a 19-game winning streak.
As a result, Batavia earned the top seed in the 20-team Class 4A Bartlett sectional.
"As long as I've been coaching now, we've had some incredible teams and we've never had a No. 1 seed," said Holm.
Led by starting pitchers Jacob Piechota (Western Michigan), Colby Green and Evan Acosta, the Bulldogs have enough arms to make a deep postseason run.
They also have a pair of Division 1 recruits in the batting order -- speedy Indiana-bound leadoff man Laren Eustace and Minnesota-bound third hitter Micah Coffey.
"We're proud of it," Coffey said of the top sectional seed. "We worked hard to get to this point but we've got to keep improving."
Coffey, who quarterbacked the Bulldogs to the Class 6A state football championship last November, would love to see his team play for a state baseball title in a couple weeks.
"We've got a team that wants to play for each other," said Coffey. "We've definitely got all the pieces to make a run for it."
"They're a true No. 1 (seed)," St. Charles East coach Len Asquini said of the Bulldogs. "They haven't lost since we beat them and it's got to be a month now. To go a whole month without losing is amazing. Whenever you can go double digits (winning streak), that's impressive."
"This is probably the best Batavia team I've seen in the 14 years I've been coaching at Geneva," said Vikings coach Matt Hahn. "This team scores a lot of runs and doesn't give up a whole lot."
Despite all the accolades, Holm knows nothing will come easy.
"It's nice to be respected and know that people put you in that position (top seed) but the reality is you still have to go out and play," said Holm. "We had a great seed (second) last year and lost to Hoffman Estates (5-4) in our first game. "It's so fragile -- it's incredibly fragile. You play against the right pitcher or you happen to have the wrong day ... baseball is totally a different game."
There is a distinctive Tri-Cities flavor to the Bartlett sectional, as 4 of the top 5 seeds are from the UEC River -- Batavia, No. 2 St. Charles East (24-10), No. 3 St. Charles North (21-12) and No. 5 Geneva.
"That's kind of the way it has been in the four years we've been in the Upstate Eight," said Hahn, whose Vikings face host Lake Park Thursday. "The four of us have kind of been at the top of the sectionals.
"It has to be one of the better sectionals in the state from top to bottom. We'll be ready to compete."
Despite graduating 6 of 8 starters off last year's third-place state finisher, St. Charles East once again finds itself in good position as it prepares for Wednesday's regional opener against host Hoffman Estates.
"We're real excited about the tournament," said Asquini, whose team features veterans Brannon Barry and Adam Rojas. "We've been preparing them for it. It's not an easy road for us.
"You might have your clear No. 1 with Batavia but then you look at us 2 through 12 and there's not much that separates us. Wheaton North (7th seed) hasn't had a great year but they're a very good team."
Sixth-seeded Glenbard North (19-13) and No. 10 South Elgin possess 2 of the top pitchers in the sectional -- Matt Albin and Michigan-bound Ryan Nutof.
"It's a single-elimination tournament so your best guy gets out there and takes care of business but if you have an off-day at the plate, it can be a little bit scary, especially that first-round game," said Asquini.
St. Charles North, which was 16-4 at one point before going 5-8 in its last 13 games, welcomes the opportunity of playing on its home field. The North Stars begin regional action Wednesday against Glenbard East.
"We're very happy about the seed," said North Stars coach Todd Genke. "Obviously we like being at home but we've got to play better."
"There are plenty of dangerous teams in the middle (sectional seeds)," he added. "With baseball, it's always tough. You can run into a hot pitcher at the wrong time."
Genke knows the margin of error can be very slim.
"A couple plays here or there can change momentum -- it can change the outcome," said Genke.
Suburban Christian Conference champion Marmion awaits Thursday's first-round regional contest against sixth-seeded Downers Grove North at Downers Grove South.
Led by ace left-handed pitcher and Michigan State-bound Alex Troop (5-0) and senior catcher Brady Roberts, the 10th-seeded Cadets will be looking for a school-first this week.
"We've never won a Class 4A regional game," said Marmion coach Dave Rakow. "We feel like we've got the pitching. It has been that way all season. When we hit, we usually win games."
In Class 3A action, second-seeded Kaneland will likely send sophomore right-hander Anthony Holubecki to the mound for Thursday's Plano regional semifinal clash against third-seeded Aurora Central Catholic.
The Class 3A and 4A state semifinals and finals are set for June 13-14 at Silver Cross Field in Joliet.
You can reach Craig Brueske at firstname.lastname@example.org