Southwestern Illinois College baseball coach Neil Fiala wasn't overly concerned when the Blue Storm dropped four of its first seven games this spring.
Now in his 20th season at SWIC, Fiala had a feeling that when the weather warmed so to would the Blue Storm offense.
Struggling with a team batting average hovering around .220 just two weeks ago, SWIC has raised that mark 83 points during a stretch which has seen the Blue Storm run off 11 straight wins.
"I think a lot of has to do with just playing games," Fiala said. "Early in the season we had some games but in the past couple of weeks we've played more and we've played better.
"We had a stretch where we had six games in four days and we started to really swing the bats much better. It's been cold, but at least we've played."
Undefeated both in the Great Rivers Athletic Conference and in Region 24 play, SWIC will carry a 14-4 record into its game today at Lincoln Trail College. The teams will meet in a doubleheader on Saturday at SWIC beginning at noon.
SWIC's bats have come alive in the last nine games.
Led by the booming bats of Gabe Hopkins (Waterloo), Adam Kunkel (Red Bud), Jonah Zink (North Clay) and Clayton Meyer (Fort Zumwalt East), SWIC has totaled nine or more runs in seven of its last nine outings.
"Not only are we hitting well, but we're hitting it well with runners in scoring position. We're getting timely hitting and we're getting it from a lot of different players," Fiala said. "We're also putting pressure on teams with our speed."
That speed was evident in the sixth inning of SWIC's 10-6 win over St. Charles Community College on Tuesday. The Blue Storm trailed, but stole three bases in a six-run outburst as it went on for the victory.
That win gave Fiala his 1,100th career coaching win at all levels.
Hopkins leads SWIC with a .424 average, while Kunkel (.396), Zink (.385) and Meyer (.381) have also been red-hot in recent games.
Meyer, the Blue Storm's leadoff hitter, is tops on the team in hits (24), doubles (8) and total bases (34). Meyer also has 11 of SWIC' 68 stolen bases. Ryan Simmons leads SWIC with 16 stolen bases.
SWIC has also relied on a rock-solid defense which has made jut 15 errors in 18 games and a good, but not overpowering pitching staff.
Former Dupo standout Caleb Tatum (3-0, 1.58 ERA) leads the Blue Storm pitching staff, while Zach Sedlacek (Edwardsville), Dustin Dalton (Francis Howell North) and A.J. Crutchfield (Waterloo) all have two wins and ERA's of under 3.40.
Tycen Wager (Mascoutah) leads the Blue Storm in saves with four, but Fiala has several strong pitchers of which he has used out of the bulllpen.
SWIC ha also benefited from a favorable schedule in the early going. SWIC has swept both three-game series with region 24 members Shawnee and Southeastern Illinois College.
"We've had a favorable schedule in that we don't play the top teams in the region -- Kaskaskia, John A. Logan and Wabash Valey -- until later in the year," Fiala said. "But the guys have done a good job of taking each team as it comes and winning games that we should win.
"With only six teams qualifying for the playoffs, very region game is important. It's important that we have as many wins as possible going into the last three series' of the regular season."
Contact reporter Dean Criddle at 239-2661 or email@example.com