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Battle tested : Sports : Oswego Ledger-Sentinel : Hometown Newspaper for Oswego and Montgomery, Illinois
Battle tested
Oswego Cats seek continued success at regionals

by Laura M. Medina


Ending the regular season on a positive note is perhaps the best situation for a playoff-poised team.

Now that the Oswego Cats have wrapped up the last leg of their schedule with three wins in four games, they're looking to carry that momentum into the American Amateur Baseball Congress (AABC) Tournament, which opens today, Thursday, with three seven-inning games.

Tournament locations have been split between Madison Meadows in suburban Lombard and Jackie's Field of Dreams. Action kicks off with Addison and Muskegon (Mich.) at 6 p.m. and Spooner (Wis.) and the Orioles slated for 8:15 p.m., with both games in Lombard.

Meanwhile, Oswego (18-17, 13-12 Chicago Suburban Baseball League) will face Westmont at 8 p.m. at home in a second-round matchup after the Cats drew a first-round bye.

Third-round competition starts Friday morning, and the bracket is expected to conclude on Sunday, with a berth to the AABC Stan Musial World Series at Farmingdale State University (N.Y.) - scheduled for Aug. 6-10 - on the line.

"We're looking forward to it," Cats field manager Todd Miller said. "The guys are excited. The younger guys will kind of see what it's all about, and the kids from last year will know more about what it means. Hopefully, they'll come to play, and we won't have a flat game and come out with some energy."

Following a rollercoaster regular season in which the longest winning streaks (June 21-24) and losing skids (June 26-29, July 19-20) were four games long, the Cats are poised for more consistency - especially in the win column - in the playoffs, where they have succeeded regularly for the better part of the previous 10 years.

Oswego is a six-time AABC Illinois State Champion, earned the North Central Regional title in 2012 and headed to the Stan Musial World Series in 2004 and 2012.

Though the Illinois State Qualifier format ended two years ago, the AABC adopted the current playoff structure last season, when the Cats' run culminated with a 6-1 loss to Muskegon in the North Central Regional at Madison Meadows. The previous summer, they had defeated the Marlins en route to its fourth-place finish in the Stan Musial World Series at Digital Domain Park in Port St. Lucie, Fla.

Before Oswego can think about venturing beyond this weekend's tournament, it must first make sure to capitalize on the things that brought the team to this point.

From the mound, the Cats' pitching combined for a 4.26 ERA in 35 CSBL games and tied for fourth in the 10-team league with 13 wins. Their arms also tossed the third-most innings (187 2-3) and struck out the fourth-most batters (178).

Offensively, their 131 runs scored led the league. Additionally, three players finished among the top 12 in batting average among CSBLers with at least 80 plate appearances and 70 at-bats in 20 games or more: Ryan O'Dell (Edgewood College) was fifth at .390, Kevin Loukota (Northeastern Illinois University) tied for ninth at .325 and Clay Schuler (Valparaiso University) finishing 11th at .310.

All three offensive contributors will be on the Cats' postseason roster, limited to just 24 players.

While Miller is sticking to those that have successfully taken the field for him this season, the AABC allows for teams that have played opponents from both the North and South Divisions in the CSBL to pick up "free agents" from other clubs in the league if they choose.

"We never do (recruit players from the league). To me, that's just not fair to the guys that are here all year," he said. "These were the guys that got us there. I'd rather stay with the group I have."

In doing so, Miller has decided on having right-hander Brandon Thielk (University of Arizona) on the bump for Thursday's game versus Westmont.

Thielk is 8-3 with a 2.33 ERA in 15 CSBL games (eight starts) in the last five summers, including wins versus the Red Sox in his only two appearances against them in 2010 and 2012.

This season, Thielk has gone 2-0 with a 1.12 ERA in two league contests (one start) this season, though neither has been against Westmont. Oswego, meanwhile, split its two games with the Red Sox, winning 6-3 on June 8 and losing 11-5 on July 24 with both games at Jackie's Field of Dreams.

The Cats have a history with every team in the tournament, except for Spooner. They're 1-3 versus Lombard - the only win coming in the first game of a doubleheader on July 9 - and have won three straight against Addison after dropping the teams' season-opener matchup on May 31.

"Hopefully, we can put all phases of the game together and make a nice run here in the tournament," Miller said. "Every team in this tournament, except for (Spooner), we know them, we've beat them, and they've beat us.

"This is what we play for all season, and now it's here," Miller said. "It's time to stop all the talking and play like we can."

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