National tournament drought ends with success : Sports : Oswego Ledger-Sentinel : Hometown Newspaper for Oswego and Montgomery, Illinois
|National tournament drought ends with success |
|Oswego Cats place fourth at Stan Musial World Series|
|by Laura M. Medina|
A return trip to the Stan Musial World Series provided plenty of positive opportunities for the Oswego Cats, and eight years after their first appearance there, they were ready for the possibilities of success in the national tournament.
After putting together a strong showing, however, the Cats' playoff run ended earlier than hoped, as they took fourth overall at Digital Domain Park in Port St. Lucie, Fla., last week.
Several months of off-season preparation, early-season adversity and 49 games of impressive baseball culminated last Saturday, when Oswego (31-18, 17-12 Chicago Suburban Baseball League) was overwhelmed 15-2 by Houston Northwest (Tex.).
It was the team's second loss in the double-elimination event, as it had also dropped a tough one the previous day to Tampa Elite (Fla.), which fell in the title game to the Albany Athletics on Sunday afternoon.
Oswego, which last played in the Stan Musial World Series in 2004, headed to Florida following its capture of the North Central Regional Championship in Battle Creek, Mich., on July 22. It earned that bid after claiming its second straight American Amateur Baseball Congress (AABC) Illinois State title by winning the regional at Jackie's Field of Dreams on July 14.
With postseason momentum already on their side, the Cats seemingly had little trouble opening the 10-team tournament with back-to-back wins against Palo Alto Oaks (Calif.), last year's fourth-place finisher, and Canton (Ohio) - the two-time defending Stan Musial World Series champion.
"It was an amazing experience to be a part of that and to play teams from different parts of the country," Cats player-assistant coach Todd Miller said. "It was exciting. You knew you were going to play good teams everyday.
"It's unfortunate that it ended like that, but we proved we could play with those teams. Hopefully, we have the core of these kids come back, because we think we could make another run at it. We proved to ourselves that we could compete; we made our name down there."
Against Palo Alto on Aug. 8, Oswego hammered out 17 hits in an 11-1 victory over the Oaks. Infielder Kevin Loukota (Northeastern Illinois University) paced the team with a 4-for-5, four-RBI performance, second baseman Clay Schuler (Valparaiso University) went 3-for-5 with an RBI, while shortstop Bobby Wilson (Aurora University) went 2-for-5 with an RBI.
Third baseman Anthony Amedei III (Aurora University) and outfielder Tony Jandron (St. Norbert College) each went 2-for-6 with an RBI in support of right-hander Rob Currie (Tusculum College), who surrendered two hits, walked two and fanned four in seven innings to win his fifth straight start.
"It was a close game until the fifth inning...and we just got our offense going," Miller said. "We came out and played good defense, and Robbie gave us seven innings.
"We kinda buried them, but they were a good team."
Currie, who finished the season 8-0 with a 2.11 ERA in 15 overall appearances, was spelled by left-hander Greg Fox (Harper College), who gave up a hit, walked one and hit one in two innings to start the Cats' tournament run on the right foot.
Oswego's second game was just as challenging, but the team pulled through with a 5-2 game versus Canton the following day. Right-hander Brandon Thielk (University of Arizona) kept the defending champion Stallions off balance, as he surrendered two runs (one earned) and eight hits, while walking one, hitting one and fanning three in a complete-game effort.
For the second straight time, the Cats muscled out double-digit hits (11), as left fielder Ryan O'Dell (Edgewood College) led the lineup with three RBIs (3-for-4). Jandron (3-for-5) and Wilson (2-for-4) each contributed an RBI.
"For games as tight as those can be, when you dump runs in bunches like that (the Cats led 3-0 after the first), it really demoralizes (the opposing team)," Miller said. "They were fighting among themselves, and you could see that they couldn't solve Brandon. He was efficient and came up with the big pitches when we needed them."
But Oswego, which had a third-round bye before returning to the diamond, couldn't repeat that kind of offense last Friday in a close 2-1 loss to Tampa Elite, as a home run in the sixth inning proved to be the game-winner.
Right-hander Kyle Ayers (Oswego High School) was stellar in the defeat, conceding just six hits and two walks while fanning eight - one short of his season high - in nine innings.
Unfortunately, the Cats' seven hits, including two from O'Dell and two from outfielder Mike Foley (Aurora University), weren't enough to defeat the Rays, who fanned nine Oswego batters.
"They were a good team, a younger team, and we got another outstanding game from Kyle (despite) one bad pitch in the sixth," Miller said. "Their pitcher was tough. We had one hit from the sixth through the ninth, and that's where we had six of our nine strikeouts."
A victory wasn't in the cards for Oswego on Saturday either, as Northwest muscled out 14 hits in the 15-2 game, which the home side led 15-0 heading into the sixth inning.
"We were excited to play Houston, and we knew they were going to be one of the best teams in the tournament," Miller said. "We didn't have an answer for them. They were good, they played good defense, their pitcher was outstanding, but that's what good teams do - they put the ball in play, they were a solid team, and they took it to us."
Right-hander Steve Sitterly (Aurora University) had no answer for the Wildcats, surrendering seven earned runs, seven hits and two walks in one-plus inning of work.
In relief, right-hander Brian Bernatowicz (Florida Memorial University) gave up four runs (three runs), two hits, three walks and one hit-by-pitch in 1 2/3 innings. Right-hander Mark Gilloffo (Central College - Iowa) came in for the next 2 1/3 frames, allowing four runs (two earned) and two walks and striking out one before left-hander Drew Nicholson (University of Chicago) finished out the game, walking one and fanning one.
"If we had to pick one game where everything broke down, it was this game," Miller said. "Every wheel on the bus fell off. You put runners on base like that for a good team, and they pound you. Every mistake we made, they capitalized."
Oswego, meanwhile, had no answer for Northwest's starter, as it mustered just five hits and was perhaps feeling the strain of playing the tournament without the bats of Josh Axelsen (St. Andrews University) and Ryan Prinzing (University of Alabama-Birmingham.)
Though the Cats were unable to secure another championship, they did receive the tournament's Sportsmanship Award, wrapping up one of their best - and most successful (31 wins) - seasons in their 26-year existence on a positive note.
"We didn't go down there and embarrass ourselves, and we weren't yelling and screaming at umpires and causing a commotion; we were there to play the game, and we did," Miller said. "More importantly, in (manager Ken Pickerill's) eyes, that goes a long way. It shows that we run a class program with good guys that respect the game and their opponents.
"It was nice to hear that teams playing behind us were talking about us, giving us instant respect; it made everything worthwhile. We're not Houston, and we're not a team from California - we're a farm town compared to these other places, and from a talent standpoint, we're not drawing from the same pool. We're playing with Division-III guys, and the ones that went to Division-I schools didn't play. We just put it all together, and it just shows you what the team concept can do versus the one-start player type of thing."
It's been a whirlwind of a season for the Cats, from starting with four-straight losses, extending through to their recognition of Pickerill and wrapping up with their postseason successes, and though their 2012 slate ended last weekend, the future is looking particularly bright for the hometown squad.
"I'm very happy we could represent Oswego that way," Miller said. "Guys that used to play with us were calling and texting me (during the tournament), and it was absolutely wonderful.
"That's not bad for our first year (there). We've got a lot to live up to now. But we'll look back on this and remember how amazing this is, and hopefully, we can make this trip again. It was an outstanding place to play, the tournament was run excellently, and I'm still on cloud nine."