As the bus left Tuesday headed for the American Legion State Baseball Tournament in Arlington Heights, Swansea/Fairview Heights manager Craig Steiner likely did a double-check on his players' equipment.
Steiner is hoping the Giants (32-9) are bringing the same incredibly hot bats that banged out 57 runs in their previous four games while winning the Fifth Division Tournament in New Baden.
Swansea/Fairview Heights opens the double-elimination state tourney with a 3 p.m. game Wednesday against Third Division champ Galesburg at Lloyd Meyer Field in Arlington Heights near Chicago.
"We have survived on pitching and pitching has really been our strength," said Steiner, whose team used wooden bats all season like the other District 22 teams before switching to aluminum in the last playoff round. "Our bats came alive at the Fifth Division Tournament and their confidence is really up with using the aluminum bats.
"We played in some tournaments where they used aluminum bats and we stayed with wood. They preferred doing it throughout the season, but I think now their confidence is up with the metal bats."
The pitchers at the Fifth Division Tournament would all be in agreement on that point.
Swansea/Fairview is bringing a red-hot lineup to Chicago, but not to be overlooked is a deep pitching staff that has posted a collective earned-run average of 1.79.
Four pitchers have ERA's below 2.00 and three are under 1.00. The Giants also will welcome back recent O'Fallon High graduate Tyler Herbert, who missed the Fifth Division tourney while on a trip to California that Steiner said had been planned months earlier.
Herbert is 4-1 with a 0.29 ERA after allowing only two earned runs in 51 innings this summer.
This is Swansea/Fairview's third state tournament trip under Steiner after previous trips in 2010 and 2012.
"I think our pitching staff is deeper this time," Steiner said. "We've seen up there that it's pitching that wins these things and that why we're confident, because of our deep pitching staff. I can't remember when we've had, top to bottom, shut-down people like we've had this year."
Steiner said the expected starter in the opener may be Richie Boatman (6-2, 2.45 ERA). Boatman has walked only four batters with 32 strikeouts in 45 innings.
Also on the talented pitching corps are reigning News-Democrat Player of the Year and McKendree University recruit Blake Deatherage (5-1, 1.85 ERA; 40 strikeouts in 37 innings), Tyler Scimio (3-1, 1.61 ERA) and Brady Schanuel (2-1, 2.14 ERA).
In the bullpen are Robert Guithues (2-0, three saves, 1.40 ERA), Collin Holton and Miles Brunk (3-0, 2.42 ERA).
Steiner has been pleased with the way players from Belleville East and O'Fallon High, plus others from various colleges, have molded together into a solid unit.
"This team is supportive of each other," he said. "They set a goal that they wanted to get to the state tournament and all they've talked about is they can win this. They are very confident they can go up there and win this tournament."
One key player missing from the lineup is All-Area shortstop Kevin Horner from Belleville East, out for the season with a stress fracture in his left foot that required surgery.
He was among the team's top hitters with a .379 average and wasn't available for the Fifth Division Tournament.
"The guys have rallied around him," Steiner said of Horner, who also made the trip to the state tourney. "Kevin was emotionally devastated because he loves the game, so the guys pulled together and did everything they could to support him.
"He hasn't missed a game since he was able to get out of his hospital bed. He's been on the field with us every game."
The bottom of the lineup has become extremely productive in the playoffs led by catcher Hayden Hewitt, hitting .440 in the postseason. Other big bats near the bottom have been Anthony Garza, Guithues and Dean Gerros.
Swinging a potent bat all season has been former O'Fallon High teammates Tanner Hudson (.397, 28 RBIs, .481 on-base percentage) and Holton (.317, team-leading 36 RBIs). Igniting the offense from the leadoff spot is recent Belleville East graduate Domonic Blaylock (.345, 18 RBIs, .428 on-base percentage), while Kyle Boewe (.355, nine doubles, three triples, one homer, 19 RBIs) has also been a threat.