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Tournament run ends in title game : Sports : Oswego Ledger-Sentinel : Hometown Newspaper for Oswego and Montgomery, Illinois
Tournament run ends in title game
Oswego Cats enjoy solid weekend, finishes summer season with 21 wins

by Laura M. Medina


For many young, inexperienced teams, the prospect of success might seem like a daunting task, but the Oswego Cats managed to take their youthfulness and turn it into 21 overall wins and a strong playoff run in a competitive tournament.

That postseason stretch, however, ended with Sunday's 7-1 road loss to the Lombard Orioles in the title contest of the North Central Regional at Madison Meadows.

Lombard took home its second straight regional championship and its second consecutive berth to the Stan Musial World Series at Farmingdale State University (N.Y.), with play expected to open on Wednesday. Results were unavailable at press time.

Oswego (21-19, 14-12 Chicago Suburban Baseball League) experienced a turnover in personnel this summer with nine newcomers on the roster, many of whom have yet to transition to the college baseball ranks. Though the team experienced its growing pains, it managed to stay afloat in the CSBL, finding a way to rack up another 20-plus win season after tallying at least 25 the previous three summers.

Wins came in many different forms, whether they were pitching gems or hitting sprees, and they were tallied both in bunches and on their own. They were even accumulated against a variety of new, non-conference opponents during the regular season

All of those factors seemingly prepared the Cats for the North Central Regional, a six-team, double-elimination tournament that mixed both CSBL teams and out-of-state squads. They won three of their first four games in the bracket leading up to the must-win matchup and looking to extend the playoffs long enough to clinch their first World Series bid since finishing fourth at the tournament in Port St. Lucie (Fla.) in 2012.

Oswego has met with and overcome adversity in the past, and Sunday's contest was no different.

"We put together a good weekend," Cats field manager Todd Miller said. "We had our struggles a few weeks back, but everything came together, and we played the way we can. Did we lose to a better team? Probably. But you know what? We were right there. We respect each other as opponents, and we know we can play with them. We did it (Saturday), and we knew that going into Sunday."

It was the Cats that had the upper hand at the beginning of the game, with right-hander Tom Ozlanski (Aurora University) taking the ball for his first start since July 19.

Ozlanski gave up two hits and struck out two in the first three innings. Meanwhile, Oswego tallied five hits and took advantage of Lombard's fielding errors to put itself in scoring position in that same span.

Just like the Orioles, the Cats were unable to put any runs on the board.

Lombard finally drew first blood in the fourth on a two-run single and did not stop there, adding another run in the fifth on an RBI-single and three in the seventh on three more RBI-singles for a 7-0 lead.

Oswego was able to recover a run - its lone score of the afternoon - in the bottom half of the frame on an RBI-single from center fielder Chris Hill (North Central College).

Right-hander Dominick Tatone (Judson University) came on in the eighth and quietly dispatched the Orioles by allowing just one hit and striking out another in his two innings of work, but the tournament hosts didn't need to do much to preserve their win.

"We put the ball in play, and it just seemed that every ball we hit was hit right to someone, and every ball they hit bled through," Miller said. "They hit maybe two balls hard off of Tom and one ball off of Dominick. Everything else was just bleeder, bleeder, bleeder, and it's just so deflating to get a guy 0-2, and he flicks something into right. We just couldn't get over the hump."

But getting over the hump was exactly what Oswego had done all season, battling through multiple player ailments, busy stretches on the schedule and even a pair of four-game slides (June 26-29, July 19-20) to put together another impressive summer.

"We just we had some injuries. We did what we could, we got this far and the only people that believed we'd get this far was us," Miller said. "We came into this saying we wanted to play Sunday, and we were here. We're one of the last two standing. I'm pretty proud of everyone."

Miller and the Cats might not have accomplished all of their goals for 2014, but as they reflect on their campaign, there's certainly value in focusing less on the shortcomings and more on their future as a respected CSBL program.

"The goal was 25 wins, and we got 21. Did we fall short? Yes. But one or two hits here and there in a couple of games, and that's every bit of 25," Miller said. "Our defense struggled all year, but our kids are young, and they'll learn.

"The good thing about this weekend is that (the first-year players) see what this means to everyone. With some of the second-year guys, you can see the difference that a year makes, that it did mean something to them, and that's one thing that the first-year guys might not get yet."

With the offseason starting now, Oswego has time to return to health, to fix the flaws in its defense and to give its young players a chance to grow in their experience on the college front and beyond. If history is any indication, all of those factors will combine to bring the Cats back to the North Central Regional Tournament next season, hopefully, with a better outcome.

"It's just a tournament, but it's bigger than that. These guys (Lombard) are going to New York; they're going to the World Series. It's tough. This is one of the worst days of the year for me, but I'm happy with the progress we made and optimistic for next year. We have a very talented roster, and to be 21-19 in a rebuilding year with a goal of 25 wins, I'm pretty happy. I'm disappointed today, but that's today. Overall, I'm happy."

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