The Southwestern Illinois College Blue Storm has been a good baseball team once again during the ‘16 season. They’ve been close to maybe being a great one.
The Blue Storm concludes its Great Rivers Athletic Conference season on Thursday and Friday when it takes on Rend Lake College in a three-game series. But unlike last year when the Blue Storm was fighting for a GRAC championship on the final weekend, this series will lack the drama.
Even if SWIC sweeps the Warriors, the best it can do is be a No. 6 seed.
“It’s been one of those years where we’ve been close in a lot of games. In fact, I can only remember one game when we’ve gotten blown out. We’ve been in a lot of one and two run games where we’ve been one big pitch, one clutch hit or one key defensive play away from winning the game,’’ Blue Storm coach Neil Fiala said.
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“This is a big series for us because if we are the sixth-seed, it would mean we wouldn’t have to play one of the top two seeds — Wabash Valley or John A. Logan — in the playoffs next week.’’
The Blue Storm (23-22 overall, 10-14 in the GRAC) will travel to Ina on Thursday to battle Rend Lake College in a doubleheader beginning at 1 p.m. The two teams will then meet in one nine inning game at SWIC beginning at 3 p.m. on Friday. The games were switched because of the predicted rain for the metro-east area this weekend.
The Blue Storm has been and will be without one of its top players in sophomore Jacob Monti who was lost for the season with a shoulder injury. Sophomore Luke Bakula has picked up the slack with a .380 batting average and 40 RBI’s.
“It was a big loss. Jacob was a big part of our team and was hitting .365 with five home runs 25 RBI and probably 15 stolen bases. That’s a lot of offense to lose,’’ Fiala said. “But after a slow start, our offense has been pretty good really. All of our starting lineup is hitting .300 or better.
“Our pitching staff has struggled a little bit here recently. I think our team ERA is 5.72 and that’s a little high. Those guys need to pick it up here in the next 10 days.
“The thing about our region this year is that every team has one and maybe two really good pitchers. In a best-of-3 series, if we’re the No. 7 seed and we’re playing the No. 2 seed, but our two pitchers happen to be on that weekend, anything can happen. That’s the way baseball is.’’
First round NJCAA Region 24 pairings will be announced on Monday. The four best-of-3 series will be held May 7-8.