Back where they belong
Eagles end two-year championship drought
Two years without any sort of postseason title doesn’t constitute a drought — at most schools anyway.
For some others, championships are an expected occurrence every spring. When they aren’t collected annually, players, coaches and even fans are left with an empty feeling.
So it was with Sandburg. While the Eagles certainly hadn’t tumbled into the abyss — 69 victories since the start of the 2012 campaign provided proof of that — something was still missing.
Now, it’s not. Behind the combined pitching efforts of Bryan Pall and Matthias Dietz, Sandburg defeated host Lincoln-Way Central 5-1 on Saturday to claim its first Class 4A regional crown since 2011 and the first under coach Jim Morsovillo.
Morsovillo and assistant coach Chuck Peters are both ex-Eagles who contributed to Sandburg’s lengthy run of playoff success under former boss Doug Sutor. After the Knights were vanquished, both men were as elated as their athletes to advance to the sectional round.
“We finally got it done,” Peters said. “We got the hump off our back and it was really nice to do that. It helps having some good arms to go throw [at opponents].”
The Eagles, who meet Providence Catholic today in an Andrew Sectional semifinal, broke a 1-all tie with Lincoln-Way Central by scoring twice in the fourth. Alec Martinez and Julian Gutierrez (doubled) supplied the RBI.
Martinez finished with two hits and a pair of RBI and Peter Paxinos also hit safely twice. But a bigger story was the pitching.
Pall fanned six even though, by Peters’ estimation, he “didn’t have his sharpest day. He was still great, but they had some decent swings off him.” Enter Dietz, who fell behind the first batter 3-0 before roaring back to strike out all but one of the 10 guys he faced.
“He was, needless to say, on his game,” Peters said. “When he went 3-0, their dugout started to chirp. It was a great atmosphere, but Matthias is one of those kids who feeds off that. [He basically said], ‘Tell me I can’t do something.’
“He threw three fastballs after that and he was probably at 90 or 91 [miles per hour] in that game.”
In reality, the Knights were likely following Sandburg’s lead. According to Peters, the Eagles “got under their pitcher’s skin a little bit [because] we were pretty loud in the dugout” in the first inning.
Sandburg did tally once then, but it wasted a bases-loaded situation in the second and Peters was hoping that failure didn’t eventually come back to haunt the Eagles.
“When you’re playing a team you think you’re better than, the longer the game stays close the more they start thinking they can win,” he said. “You’ve got to have a little bit of luck in baseball and we can’t squander [scoring] opportunities.”
While winning was obviously on everyone else’s mind as well, Peters said no member of Sandburg’s coaching staff wanted to place too much emphasis on the recent postseason shortcomings of their own club.
“You can’t let players feel that,” Peters said. “The last thing you want to do is put more pressure on them.
“The practices we had going into that game were really efficient and I knew on the bus we were ready to play. You can tell if they’re loose and ready to go, and they were blasting music.”
One of the practice activities was “27 outs,” where players have to make that many consecutive clean defensive plays. One error brings the count back to zero.
“That’s something I did in college, and a lot of colleges do it,” Peters said. “You’re never going to be able to replicate game-time anxiety, but you have to do the best you can.”
The Eagles opened regional play with a win over the Warriors last Wednesday, although Peters insisted it was “a very tough matchup we had in the first round. Their pitcher was pretty good, but I don’t think he was ready for that big stage.”
Four runs in the first inning had Sandburg sitting pretty, and it added a deuce in the fourth and one more tally in the fifth to complete its scoring. Crete-Monee didn’t expunge its shutout until the seventh, which was also when it finally recorded its initial hit off Eagles starter Sean Leland, who racked up 13 strikeouts.
“That’s probably the best game he’s pitched,” Peters said.
Jim Roche had three hits to pace Sandburg’s offense, while Paxinos (two), Martinez and Chris Stearns were the RBI men.
Crete-Monee 000 000 1 — 1
Sandburg 400 210 x — 7
Sandburg RBI: Paxinos 2, Martinez, Stearns. WP: Leland.
Lincoln-Way Central 001 000 0 — 1
Sandburg 100 202 x — 5
Sandburg 2B: Genoa, Gutierrez. RBI: Martinez 2, Gutierrez. WP: Pall.