Class 3A baseball postseason primer
‘Field’ of dreams?
Take a look at the field for this week’s Class 3A Mahomet-Seymour baseball regional.
Not the playing surface that the Bulldogs call home a few steps southeast of their high school, but the competition field.
There’s Big 12 champion Champaign Central (33-2), there’s Corn Belt champion M-S (26-4) and there’s Centennial (20-12).
There’s also an Urbana team (10-14) which has a win over Central and a Rantoul team (18-13) that has a lineup of potent hitters.
Here’s a brief rundown of what to expect out of the five-school event, which starts with a game today (4:30 p.m.) at Rantoul’s Wabash Park, where the Eagles will host Urbana in a contest that will determine the final semifinal spot.
A loaded field
Coaches seldom agree on things, but there’s a verdict that’s unanimous about the M-S Regional.
“This may be one of the toughest regionals in the state,” Central coach John Staab said.
“All five teams have shut-down pitchers on their rosters,” Centennial coach Ryan Remole said.
“When I look at this regional, I think it is one of the toughest around,” M-S coach Nic DiFilippo said.
“This bracket is the toughest I’ve seen in my three years,” Rantoul coach Jon Donovan said.
“This regional, from top to bottom, may be the toughest in the state,” Urbana coach Gene Hoffman said.
So, who will win?
OK, coaches don’t agree on everything. Here’s the proof.
“I believe the team that can best keep their emotions in check, while staying mentally focused on the task at hand, will have the best chance of winning,” Staab said.
“The team that is able to make the routine plays without errors is going to be in the best position to win it all,” Remole said.
“This regional will come down to who is focused on pitching and defense,” DiFilippo said.
“If a team believes in their success, has the right mental approach and plays ‘special’ on that day, anyone can be beat,” Donovan said.
“Pitching is the key to any postseason run,” Hoffman said.
Maroons can pitch in
The fact is, only one pitcher is required to win a game.
Another fact is Central’s Staab has a plethora of choices.
The Maroons have a team earned run average of 1.14 through 35 games.
Here are his options:
— Sophomore Tanner Gordon is 4-0 with an 0.00 ERA.
— Sophomore Phillip Swartz is 8-0 with an 0.51 ERA.
— Junior Zach Dorner is 5-0 with a 0.67 ERA.
— Senior Taylor Beard is 3-0 with an 0.82 ERA.
— Senior Alec Altmyer is 8-2 with a 1.63 ERA.
— Senior Zach Williams is 4-0 with a 2.19 ERA.
Once teams reach the semifinals, two wins will be required to move on to the sectionals.
There’s no shortage of candidates, which explains why the top three seeds have won 79 of 97 games (81.4 percent).
Central’s Joe Aeilts has a school-record 10 triples to go with 60 hits, one shy of tying the all-time record. Jake Snider has swatted 15 doubles.
Centennial’s Jeff Lindgren and Austin Johnson are batting over .350 and have ERAs under 2.40.
M-S has power and speed from Joe Kenney (six homers, 15 stolen bases) and the ability to reach base from Tom Kenney (.505 season average).
Rantoul has go-to pitchers in Kyle Flessner and Kolton Vermillion.
Urbana has Parkland College recruits Tanner Russell (team-high .492 average) and Conner Gremer (team-high four wins).
Perhaps the most impressive statistic of any team in the field belongs to Centennial.
Of the Chargers’ 32 games, 19 have been decided by no more than two runs. Centennial is 12-7 in those close contests.
DiFilippo didn’t want to enter the postseason with a six-day layoff, so his Bulldogs will play Normal U-High on Tuesday, two days before they host Centennial in a regional game.
Rantoul’s Donovan supports a comment made by sports psychologist Brian Cain:
“The best team never wins. It’s the team that plays the best on that given day that walks away victorious.”
Urbana has endured what Hoffman calls “a roller-coaster season,” but he added, “we are coming around to the team I envisioned.”