Parkland baseball clicking ahead of Region 24 tournament

Parkland baseball clicking ahead of Region 24 tournament

CHAMPAIGN — "A well-oiled machine."

That's how Parkland baseball catcher and leading hitter Jordyn Muffley described the Cobras (47-7-1) ahead of the Region 24 tournament, which begins Thursday at Springfield's Claude Kracik Field.

Parkland won't play Thursday, having earned the No. 1 seed in the double-elimination, six-team event that runs through Sunday. But Muffley said the Cobras, who start their Region 24 tournament run at noon on Friday, are ready for all contenders.

"Everybody is staying up," Muffley said. "The goal overall is to go to the (NJCAA Division II) World Series, but you have to get there first."

That's something the Cobras achieved last season by winning the Region 24 tournament. But Parkland's stay in Enid, Okla., didn't last long, featuring losses by 20-2 and 6-3 margins on consecutive days.

The feeling that comes with a quick ouster is one that has stuck with the Cobras "since we got back from Oklahoma," Parkland coach Dave Garcia said.

It's clear that feeling remains with the players, too, as sophomores Muffley and Brady Schanuel, the team's top starting pitcher, talk about having some unfinished business in the Division II postseason.

But none of the Cobras are getting too far ahead of themselves, despite the team making last year's national tournament — and despite stretches of utter dominance on the field in 2017.

"They're ready for the playoffs," Garcia said of his players. "We realize winning the Region 24 tournament, it doesn't matter how many wins you have in the regular season. There are a lot of good teams that are capable of going to Oklahoma."

Still, Parkland has a balanced group of athletes who give the team a strong shot at coming out of its region.

On the pitching side, Garcia can turn to any of his four starters for solid innings, saying he wouldn't be afraid to use all four in a single game this postseason if necessary.

Leading the charge is Schanuel, who set the Cobras' single-season and career strikeout records this season. He's one shy of triple digits in the former category for 2017, adding to that a 1.93 ERA and four complete games in just 12 starts.

"I'd say it all starts with Strike 1," Schanuel said. "If you get ahead, (batters) tend to overthink, and you can get complex with mind games and beat them with your stuff."

Local products Luke Smith (freshman from Centennial) and Jack Rettig (redshirt freshman from Mahomet-Seymour) each hold 9-0 records with two complete games. Smith (1.91 ERA) and Rettig (2.87) each carry a strikeouts-per-nine-innings mark of better than nine.

"We have confidence in each of our starting pitchers and all of our relievers," Smith said. "I think anybody we send out there, we have confidence there aren't going to be too many runs scored."

Other noteworthy contributors on the mound include starter Evan Snyder (6-1, 1.32 ERA) and relievers Jarret Olson (three wins, two saves, 1.40 ERA) and Dan Lloyd (three wins, one save, 3.92 ERA).

But just as critical to the Cobras' pitching success is Muffley behind the dish.

"I know all these other pitchers can say the same about him, but I'm fully confident throwing a curveball in the dirt and (knowing) Jordyn will keep it in front of him," Lloyd said. "(We'll) keep working the corners and he'll get us those strikes called. He's just a good presence back there."

Muffley is an equally strong presence with a bat in his hands, holding a .409 average and a team-high 69 RBI to go with 11 home runs. Redshirt freshman infielder Trystin Raikes (.384 average, team-best 17 home runs, 58 RBI) and sophomore first baseman Cory Wright (team-best .438 average, team-high 18 doubles and team-best 21 stolen bases) are all keys to helping the Cobras average nearly nine runs per game this season.

"We're all feeding off each other right now," Muffley said. "We're getting hustle (doubles), getting extra-base hits right off the bat, then we're solid all the way through the lineup."

Garcia credits hitting coach Sam Judah for the Cobras' run-scoring prowess this season.

"A lot of it is just more approach-based, getting your pitch and not missing it," Garcia said. "At this point in the year, we could take 10,000 swings in the batting cage and we're not going to be more ready for (the postseason) than we are right now."

Ready is among the first words used to describe Parkland baseball at this point. The Mid-West Athletic Conference champion could take on fourth-seeded Heartland — which is responsible for one of the Cobras' two conference losses — fifth-seeded Lewis & Clark or sixth-seeded Illinois Central College on Friday.

And as much as Parkland might want to prove last season's World Series run was far from the best it could offer, Garcia is keeping his team grounded.

"There's so much parity in this league (that) you can't let your guard down at all," Garcia said. "Once we get to Sunday, the only thing that matters is going home Sunday night happy. After that, then we'll talk about Oklahoma."

 

Region 24 tournament schedule

THURSDAY’S GAMES
GAME 1: (4) Heartland vs. (5) Lewis & Clark, noon
GAME 2: (3) Danville Area Community College  vs. (6) Illinois Central, 3 p.m.
GAME 3: Loser Game 1 vs. Loser Game 2, 6 p.m.

FRIDAY’S GAMES
GAME 4: (1) Parkland vs. Games 1-2 winners’ worst seed, noon
GAME 5: (2) Lincoln Land vs. Games 1-2 winners’ best seed, 3 p.m.
GAME 6: Winner Game 3 vs. Games 4-5 losers’ worst seed, 6 p.m.

SATURDAY’S GAMES
GAME 7: Game 4 winner vs. Game 5 winner, noon
GAME 8: Game 6 winner vs. Games 4-5 losers’ best seed, 3 p.m.
GAME 9: Game 8 winner vs. Game 7 loser, 6 p.m.

SUNDAY’S GAMES
GAME 10: Winner Game 7 vs. Winner Game 9, 1 p.m.
GAME 11: Played in Winner Game 9 wins Game 10, 4 p.m.

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