Baranek: If Sandburg has swagger, time is right
Tony Baranek firstname.lastname@example.org | (708) 633-5947 May 24, 2012 6:02PM
Under coach Jim Fabianski, Sandburg takes a 20-15 record into Saturday’s regional game against Andrew. | File photo
Sandburg’s softball teams won 28 or more games every year between
1999 to 2011.
2010: 40-2 (1st in state)
Updated: July 3, 2012 9:39AM
One of the classic battles in last year’s state softball playoffs took place in the Class 4A Lockport Sectional title game between Sandburg and Andrew.
Sandburg was down to its final two outs, trailing 1-0, when Lexi Bryant slugged a walkoff two-run double to give the Eagles a 2-1 victory and a berth in the Normal Supersectional.
Saturday at Andrew, the two teams are set to meet again, but this time it’s not for a spot in the Sweet 16. This is merely for a regional title.
Andrew, who yours truly gave the No. 1 preseason nod, has played very much to potential, going 31-5 behind the pitching of Brooke Hofer and the hitting of, among many, the Christner sisters, Katie and Kelly.
The Thunderbolts are currently No. 2 behind Richards, and they’ll be the favorites on Saturday.
It’s been a very strange journey in 2012 for No. 8 Sandburg, which yours truly put at the No. 3 spot in the preseason without batting an eye.
I mean, it’s Sandburg, right?
Not this year. The Eagles started their season with a split against defending Class 4A champion Moline and have played in an up-and-down pattern ever since.
There have been a couple of highlights, such as a 15-6 victory over Class 3A stalwart Oak Forest and a gritty 8-5 conquest of then No. 8 Beecher. There have been 20 wins in all.
But against the Southland’s ranked teams (save for Beecher)the Eagles have struggled. They saw a 7-1 lead against Marian Catholic disappear in a shocking 9-7 loss. Lockport beat them 2-0 and 3-0. Marist, which has struggled itself, prevailed 2-1. In two meetings with Lincoln-Way East, they lost by scores of 4-1 and, get this, 11-1. There have been 15 losses in all.
That 11-1 stunner occurred on May 15, and it was particularly jarring because it occurred at home on Senior Day.
“We just ... it wasn’t good,” Sandburg coach Jim Fabianski said. “We didn’t do very well at all. I think it was nerves. We have a lot of young girls who feel they have to hold up the Sandburg tradition. This group gets really, really nervous.”
Not typical. Not typical at all.
Over the past 20 years (and three coaches), Sandburg softball teams have lost as many as 15 games just once. That was in 1997, when the Eagles were 15-19. The Eagles have won 28 or more games every year since 1999.
At Sandburg, they don’t rebuild softball teams, they reload.
This time, though, Fabianski went young. Very young.
Three sophomores (Brooke Heimerl, Karli McLaughlin and Sarah Herold) start at key positions (third base, catcher, No. 2 pitcher/outfield). There are only four seniors (Karissa Kouchis, Jessie Pesavento, Amanda Barna and Katie Guska).
Barna, in taking over the pitching duties for Lora Olson, has for the most part been solid, but only has a 13-10 record to show for it.
“Other than three games throughout the season, she’s been very consistent,” Fabianski said. “And two of those three were basically because she was (pitching) injured. One of them (the 11-1 loss), we had a total breakdown in our team. But otherwise, she usually averages from five to six hits and two to three runs allowed.”
Which should be good enough for the average Sandburg team to overcome. But this year the run support has been spotty.
“Very typical was last Saturday (a 3-0 loss to Normal West),” Fabianski said. “We ended up loading the bases twice, once with one out and once with nobody out, and came up with nothing. Amanda gave us her typical five hits and three runs. We just needed to get some hits.
“We keep telling the girls that we wouldn’t spend time working on stuff if we didn’t feel the potential was there, and that one game they’re going to bust out.”
Wednesday, the Eagles beat Shepard 11-3 as Barna struck out 12 and allowed three unearned runs.
That shouldn’t scare Andrew. But there is one factor here that should make the Thunderbolts at least wary.
“Our seniors want a chance to come home (for the Sandburg Sectional),” Fabianski said. “They were not happy with their last home game, losing 11-1 on Senior Night. They want a shot to come home, and we have to go through Andrew to do it.”
The T-Bolts, meanwhile, have last year’s gut-wrenching sectional final loss burning in their bellies.
This is going to be good.