BUCKLEY — Tim Dillman’s Royal Giants baseball team possessed plenty of positive vibes after sweeping two games against Paxton last Sunday, finishing with three doubleheader triumphs in as many tries during the condensed Eastern Illinois League regular season.
Easily good enough to earn the Giants the No. 1 seed in the four-team postseason tournament, which is slated to begin Sunday with a 1 p.m. semifinal matchup between Royal (6-0) and No. 4 El Paso (0-4) and continues with a 4 p.m. semifinal tilt between No. 2 Buckley (4-2) and No. 3 Paxton (0-4).
Both games are scheduled for nine innings, and the winners will meet next weekend in a best-of-three championship series. All playoff games are occurring at Buckley’s Scheiwe Field.
So, yes, Dillman’s team already was feeling good.
Doesn’t hurt to add a little extra good news to the mix.
League officials announced Thursday that Royal swept the league’s three regular-season awards. Monticello graduate Asher Bradd snagged the Ralph Loschen Award for most outstanding player, as voted upon by team managers. Jesse Remington, a Rantoul graduate, secured the Virgil Scheiwe Award for top pitcher, and St. Joseph-Ogden graduate Colton Carr took the Dick Franzen Award for top batting average.
“I feel good for the guys,” Dillman said. “They’ve shown up for all the games and committed to the season knowing it was a short season. ... It was nice to sweep them. That doesn’t happen too often.”
Bradd, a sophomore at Illinois-Springfield, is hitting .476 in 21 at-bats with four RBI, 10 hits and eight stolen bases. Among Bradd’s base knocks are two doubles, one triple and one home run.
“He’s so versatile,” Dillman said. “No matter where I put him, he plays the game like it’s supposed to be played.”
Remington, whom Dillman said won’t be available for Sunday’s semifinal because of a previously-scheduled vacation, has permitted just seven hits over 20 innings, allowing one run while striking out 30 and walking two.
Carr, a senior with St. Ambrose baseball, has soared to a .588 batting average in 17 at-bats, driving in nine runs on 10 hits and doubling three times.
Dillman said Carr relishes the chance to put a bat in his hands, considering Carr is used only as a pitcher in college.
“He doesn’t get to hit that often, but he loves to hit in the summer when he comes back and plays,” Dillman said. “I was able to have some depth at pitching and rest his arm for the summer.”
Carr has made just one mound appearance in Royal’s six games, bagging a one-inning save in the season opener with Buckley. Carr struck out 2019 E.I. most valuable player Storm Joop with two runners on base to end the game.
Dillman doesn’t plan to use Carr on Sunday versus El Paso, although he described Carr as “my ace in the hole” from a pitching perspective. Instead, it’ll be Rantoul graduate Nolan Roseman getting the nod.
Dillman is just glad his crew has a reason to suit up. El Paso forfeited one of its two games last week against Buckley because of a shorthanded roster, and there was concern the Warriors wouldn’t be involved in the postseason.
“It’d have been disappointing if they couldn’t field a team,” Dillman said. “I’d much rather play and earn our way in (to the championship series) than just get a free ride.”
There’s no concern about the E.I. League postseason taking place as planned, either, despite Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s announcement Wednesday of restrictions to youth and adult recreation sports in the state.
League secretary Trent Eshleman noted that even if the regulations went into effect immediately — instead of the scheduled Aug. 15 date, by which time the league playoffs will be over — baseball is deemed a lower-risk sport and the league’s competition all falls under the “intra-league” banner outlined in Pritzker’s guidelines, so E.I. play could go on. Plus, league championship games currently are permitted for lower-risk sports under Pritzker’s rules.