Baseball: Late-season surge pushes ThunderBolts over .500
By Steve Millar For Sun-Times Media September 10, 2013 9:22PM
ThunderBolts' Dyllon Nuernberg delivers a pitch against Normal at Standard Bank Stadium, Tuesday, June 23rd, 2013 in Crestwood. | Gary Middendorf~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: October 12, 2013 6:26AM
The Windy City ThunderBolts fell short of the Frontier League playoffs for the third straight season, but a 50-46 final record looked awfully good when considering how Windy City started.
The T-Bolts never fully recovered from a 3-11 May, but went 28-16 after the All-Star break and even put themselves in the playoff hunt. They finished just three games out of a postseason spot.
“Earlier in the year, it was like, ‘When’s the mistake going to happen?’ ” T-Bolts manager Ron Biga said. “It was like we were just waiting for that mistake that’d cost us the game.
“Then people started to buy in. We won some games and the thinking became, ‘How are we going to win this one?’ No matter what the score was, we believed we’d win.”
A big change down the stretch was the offense’s sudden ability to produce clutch hits.
“The whole last month, we really turned it around offensively,” second baseman Mike Torres said. “We were able to get hits with runners in scoring position and two outs to drive in runs. That was something we really struggled with early on.”
Biga gave credit to hitting coach Pete Pirman and pitching coach Brian Smith for the turnaround.
“Obviously, we were a lot better in the second half of the season than the first,” Biga said. “We made some great adjustments. Pete and Brian did a phenomenal job. Without them, there’s no way we’d have had any success.”
On the mound, Daniel Cropper led the team with eight wins while Dyllon Nuernberg (6-1, 2.71 ERA) had the best year among the starters. Closer Michael Click (22 saves, 0.90 ERA) was lights-out.
Ryan Soares (.290, 3 home runs) finished with a team-high 49 RBI while Chad Cregar — after an injury-plagued first half — heated up in a big way in August and September, hitting 10 of his team-high 11 homers from Aug. 1 forward.
Veteran Zach Aakhus, in his fifth season with the team, bounced back from a slow offensive year in 2012. He led the team in hitting (.301), and ranked second in home runs (6) and third in RBI (38).
It was Aakhus who started throwing out the term “sneaky”, which became the team’s motto late in the year.
“It started when we played the Greys (Aug. 7 to 9),” Aakhus said. “They had swept us last time, but we swept them back with three one-run wins. They were just sneaky wins. We snuck up on people a lot in the second half. The second half was a lot of fun.”