College Baseball: ECC set for postseason action
By Gene Chamberlain For Sun-Times Media May 10, 2012 4:32PM
Elgin Community College's Matt Stevens and Justin Kalusa (right) celebrate during a game earlier this season. | Andrew A. Nelles~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: June 12, 2012 8:13AM
When Elgin Community College’s baseball team suffered a shutout loss in the front end of an April 19 doubleheader to the nation’s 10th-ranked Division II junior college team, Black Hawk, its record dropped to 15-13.
The Spartans appeared headed for another loss in the second game, but after a late rally they came away with a 5-4 victory. It may have been the turning point in what has developed over the past three weeks into yet another successful season for a team with a tradition of playing in the NJCAA World Series.
“That second game was the first time all year we had come from behind and won a game,” ECC coach Bill Angelo said. “That could have been the thing that triggered everything.”
Now ECC (30-17) is playing with great confidence, having won 15 of its last 19 games, including nine of its last 10 heading into this weekend’s Region IV sectional tournament at Kankakee Junior College. ECC, the sixth seed in Region IV, opens at 9 a.m. against a Carl Sandburg team (10th seed) that it just swept last Friday 4-2 and 6-0. The Spartans play third seed Kankakee at noon in their second game.
The Spartans have won 12 straight sectional titles and see a sixth trip to nationals in nine years as a possibility.
“I think we have a good shot at the World Series here because our pitching staff is just solid,” said ECC pitcher Art Sutter. “We’ve been that way since the beginning of the year. And our defense has definitely improved.
“Offensively, we’re seeing the ball a lot better, now. We’re a complete team.”
Larkin grad and leadoff man Justin Kalusa has been the player who has lit the offensive fuse much of the year, batting over .400 and ranking among the top 20 much of the season nationally in batting average. He also is a perfect 17-for-17 stealing bases.
“We’re a team that hits a lot of doubles, hits a lot of gappers, and then we’ll have a single and I think we’re a pretty quick team,” said catcher Matt Stevens, the St. Charles North grad who has been hitting in the .350 range most of the season. “So we can score from second or first depending on where it’s hit and that’s a key for us.”
Consistent pitching has been a hallmark of the team all season.
Bob Thorson from Kaneland is unbeaten (7-0), Sutter is 4-2 and the other two main starters have been Bartlett’s Alex Van Ness and St. Charles North’s Ryan Hudspeth.
“Alex and Ryan are two good veteran pitchers who I’ve learned a lot from,” said Thorson, who also has been among the team’s RBI leaders and batting average leaders all year. “I thought I could have the kind of season I’m having now, that I had the stuff to do it, but it’s not necessarily something I thought was going to happen.”
St. Charles North’s Ryan Richardson has anchored the infield defense which has bailed out pitchers when necessary during the hot streak.
Angelo, who got his 500th career win at ECC earlier this season, likes the way it’s shaping up for his team even if they weren’t seeded in the top five in Region IV.
“There’s six teams that are pretty solid, that are all good teams,” he said. “But the way we’re playing right now, I feel pretty good about our chances going into it.”
Burlington Central’s Drew Stover and Jeff Ehlers, Larkin’s Scott Harm and Victor Saldana, Streamwood’s Nate Pearson and Dominick Tatone, Bartlett’s David Mutter, South Elgin’s Ryan Hicks and Hampshire’s Ryan Burke are the remaining area high school products on the team.
Stevens isn’t sure if that victory in the doubleheader over Black Hawk had a direct impact on the improvement shown, but sees the improvement stemming from confidence.
“I think we just realized what we can do, what we can be, and where we can take our team this season,” he said.