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College Baseball: Pitching a root of surge by St. Francis

Updated: April 21, 2014 9:52PM



The winning formula for St. Francis has been nothing out of the ordinary over recent weeks.

Far from it, and Saints coach Brian Michalak couldn’t be happier. Fundamental baseball is fundamental baseball, and he’ll take it.

“It starts with our pitchers, and they’re doing a great job,” Michalak said. “We’re not allowing a lot of hits and no walks, and the defense has been good, too. When you do those two things, you’re going to be in a lot of ballgames.”

After an April 1 doubleheader sweep at the hands of St. Xavier, St. Francis’ record stood at 15-14 overall and 5-2 in the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference South.

Three weeks later, the Fighting Saints are 29-15, 17-3, having won 14 of 15. St. Francis last won the conference title in 2011.

Michalak’s squad has seven games remaining in conference play, including a home doubleheader Wednesday vs. two-time defending champion Judson.

“We’re trying not to look too far forward, just talk about the next game,” Michalak said. “We don’t want to look too far forward or too far in the past so we concern ourselves with us.”

With the best team ERA (3.06) in the CCAC, St. Francis has ridden the success of its pitching staff. Jake Butler (7-1, 2.01 ERA, 80 strikeouts) and Mount Carmel alum Adam Panayotovich (6-2, 1.99 ERA, 76 strikeouts) have given the Fighting Saints a solid 1-2 punch on the mound.

Butler tied a program career record for wins (30) with his victory last week over Robert Morris. The senior righty went all 13 innings in the team’s 3-1 victory, finishing with 11 strikeouts, three walks, two hits and one unearned run. It was his sixth straight complete game.

“Adam and Jake have been great, and not necessarily in that order,” Michalak said. “I’m proud of the whole staff. Ten of our 11 pitchers have a victory so they’re all contributing.”

Michalak also credited the strong play of seniors Dave Kuhne (.394, 40 runs) and Joe Ruge (.370, 33 RBI, 29 runs) both offensively and defensively. Kuhne has committed just one error in center field while Ruge has just two errors playing first base.

Moraine Valley seeks growth

With 15 freshmen on the roster, Moraine Valley coach Cole Farmer is looking for growth game in and game out.

“Freshmen-dominated, so I want to improve these guys’ baseball IQs going into their sophomore years,” Farmer said. “As a two-year school, there’s not much growing room. I’m asking these guys to get better quickly.”

Moraine Valley was 5-14 heading into Monday’s game against North Central JV. Moraine’s record may be disappointing, but Farmer believes his team is right on the brink of putting things together.

“We could have been sweeping people, and we’re right there (as a team),” Farmer said. “Our lack of depth has really hurt us. It would hurt anybody.”



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