BELLEVILLE — The journey towards a possible NJCAA Region 24 baseball championship will begin at home for the Southwestern Illinois College Blue Storm.
Seeded third in the eight-team Region 24 bracket, SWIC (34-16) will host sixth-seed Olney Central (28-16) at noon Saturday in the opener of a best-of-three series.
Game two will follow and if necessary a third game will be played at SWIC on Sunday at noon.
The Blue Storm enters the postseason on a roll.
Once 9-11, SWIC won 25 of its final 30 regular-season games and for the first time in several years has a legitimate shot of going deep into the postseason.
"What was the big difference?," Blue Storm coach Neil Fiala said. "I'd say it's that we became more consistent and we got a couple key guys back in the lineup.
"Because the weather was so lousy earlier, we just weren't playing enough on a regular basis to where we could any momentum going. Once it got nice and we are able to play four or five times a week, we started to swing the bats better and we were able to get in a routine with our pitching.''
The SWIC-Olney series is one of four being held by Region 24 this weekend.
Top-seeded Wabash Valley is hosting No. 8 seed Shawnee College. Second-seeded Kaskaskia is hosing No. 7 Lincoln Trail and fifth-seeded Lakeland is playing at No. 4 John A. Logan College.
The four first-round series winners advance to the Region 24 finals, May 8-10 at Rent One Ballpark in Marion.
SWIC is led on offense by freshman Adam Bauer (.388), Sean Murley (.367) and Cody Massey (.365).
But as Fiala is quick to point out with a team batting average of .333, there are no easy outs in the Blue Storm order.
"Offensively, we've gotten some guys healthy who have really helped solidify our lineup,'' Fiala said. "From one through nine, we can hurt teams. The key is to have good at bats and be able to get big hits with runners in scoring position.
"We've had guys pick each other up all year. I see no reason why that won't continue this weekend.''
Dustin Dalton (9-2, 2.35 ERA) will get the start in the first game today for SWIC. Fiala was unsure of the rest of his playoff rotation.