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Team depth, pitching create early optimism : Sports : Oswego Ledger-Sentinel : Hometown Newspaper for Oswego and Montgomery, Illinois
Team depth, pitching create early optimism
Oswego Cats split doubleheader with Addison

by Laura M. Medina


A tradition of success has been an integral part of the Oswego Cats' extensive history, with its previous 28 seasons marked by a variety of team milestones and individual player accolades.

As the Cats begin their 2014 schedule with expectations of a similar caliber, they're hoping their veterans can combine their experience with the talents of the latest crop of players to continue racking up achievements within and beyond the Chicago Suburban Baseball League.

With the second-best record in the North Division and the third overall in the CSBL last season, Oswego (25-17, 19-12) converted a staggered summer start into its third straight 25-win - or better - campaign.

The team split four postseason games in the American Amateur Baseball Congress (AABC) North Central Regional, but a 6-1 loss to the Muskegon (Mich.) Marlins at Madison Meadows in Lombard ended the Cats' bid for a trip to the Stan Musial World Series in Farmingdale, NY.

Oswego's latest try at a berth to New York began last weekend in rocky fashion with a doubleheader split (2-1 loss, 14-4 win) versus Addison last Saturday at Jackie's Field of Dreams and a twinbill sweep (2-1, 8-3 losses) against Lombard at the very familiar Madison Meadows on Sunday leaving the team with a 1-3 start.

The schedule continued Tuesday night against Crestwood at home, but results were unavailable at press time.

"We didn't hit the ball well in Game 1 (on Saturday), but in Game 2, it was a different story; we just started hitting the ball like we should, like we can, and like we know we can," Cats field manager Todd Miller said.

"In Game 1 (on Sunday), we went through the first nine hitters and had eight strikeouts and a home run, but even with two hits, we had a 2-1 game, and we had a chance to score in the last inning. In game two, we fell apart in one inning. That hurts, and we're better than this - I know that. We're pretty confident in the group of kids we got. We're piecing it together."

Oswego's pieces for the season include a mix of familiar faces, like 2013 Pitcher of the Year Kyle Ayers (Oswego High School) and statistical offensive leaders Clay Schuler (Valparaiso University), Anthony Amedei III (Aurora University), Kevin Loukota (Northeastern Illinois University), and Ryan O'Dell (Edgewood College).

Ayers went 5-1 - tied for second in the league - with a save and a 2.25 ERA in eight appearances last season. Schuler had a league-leading 37 hits, while Amedei was second with 34, and Loukota was tied for third at 33.

O'Dell had 30 hits and 17 RBIs for the Cats, who ranked third in overall batting average (.283) and RBIs (126) while leading the league with 265 hits

A large portion of the current squad, however, consists of young, relatively inexperienced players, as well as players new to CSBL competition. These changes have allowed them to improve significantly in one particularly important area - depth.

Contributing to that depth will be several players from local-area schools, including Oswego graduate and infielder Rick Tormey (Hamline University). Infielder Devin Ambrose (Tiffin University) and pitcher Kyle Doney (Waubonsee Community College) are both from Plano. Yorkville graduate and pitcher Brett Assell (Waubonsee Community College) played with the Cats last season.

"We've got 35 guys rostered," Miller said. "We have a lot of pitching, and we have depth at every position - outfield, all the infielders, and catching, which was a big thing for us last year. We have a couple of regulars returning, and we have new guys from Waubonsee and several from Aurora.

"One of the goals of the offseason was to give some guys some time off. We lost (All-College Team honoree Brady Renner) in center, but we are two deep in the outfield spots. We have four middle infielders that we can move, and we have guys that can play the corners."

Oswego's new-look roster fits in well with Miller's revamped plan for the team's goal of success throughout the regular and playoff seasons.

"I told them that we're going to sub, and they're okay with that; they understand that," he said. "With work and school schedules, that's kind of what we're building on this year."

As with every season, the goal toward which the Cats are building is a winning postseason run. Oswego is a six-time AABC Illinois State champion and captured the North Central Regional title in 2012 en route to finishing fourth in the Stan Musial World Series - its first such appearance since 2004.

"The first thing that I told them (Saturday) before we went out was that we're here for a reason, and that reason is to play in the regional and to go to the World Series," said Miller, who expects to have a 24-man roster for the playoffs.

"(They're) playing for a spot, and that's just the way it's got to be. Hopefully, that'll breed some competition between the guys and will make them want to excel when they're here, make them want to come to the games and show that they're working. We'll be good. This was a weekend to get their feet wet and to see what they have. Once we get the season rolling and get some games under our belt, we'll be OK."

Oswego returns to Jackie's Field of Dreams today, Thursday, against Addison at 8 p.m. and again Sunday for a doubleheader against Westmont. First pitch is scheduled for 1 p.m.

Notes: Against Addison on Saturday, the Cats were three-hit in a 2-1 season-opening loss. Their bats awakened in the 14-4 nightcap of the doubleheader, as newcomer Johnny Peltz (Wheaton College) went 1-for-4 with a homer and three RBIs. Dan Walczak (Aurora University), Schuler and Loukota each had two RBIs. Versus Lombard on Sunday, 10-year veteran and recent Hall of Fame inductee Schuler (2-for-3 with a homer) accounted for all of the offense in the 2-1, Game 1 loss. Ayers gave up those runs on seven hits in five innings of work. In Game 2, Walczak went 2-for-3 with an RBI, but it wasn't enough in the 8-3 defeat.

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