Baseball: Slotting pitchers always a postseason puzzle
By Dennis Nelson For Sun-Times Media May 22, 2012 7:20PM
Proividence baseball coach Mark Smith. | File photo
Updated: July 2, 2012 9:47AM
To pitch your best or not, that is the question lingering for Joliet-area baseball coaches as Class 3A and 4A regional tournaments begin.
It’s an age-old problem that, sometimes, creates more questions than answers.
In a single-elimination tournament, there’s no room for error. And “saving” a No. 1 pitcher for a regional semifinal or final is a dangerous proposition. A team might be “saving” him for next season or his college career.
“You always use your No. 1,” Lincoln-Way Central coach Sean Bieterman said. “I’ve done it that way for 10 years. You can’t save someone for a game if you lose.”
Ethan Hollingsworth, a Plainfield South graduate who’s pitching for the Northwest Arkansas Naturals of the Kansas City Royals organization, did not start a state tournament game during his career. During his junior and senior seasons, the Cougars were eliminated in the first round of the state playoffs while Hollingsworth was slated for a regional final start.
“The only reason I would save a No. 1 is if I didn’t think our No. 2 could win in the next round,” Joliet West coach John Karczewski said. “You don’t want to be knocked out with your best on the bench.”
“You pitch your No. 1, then your No. 2,” Plainfield South coach Phil Bodine said. “I have seen too many coaches get burned by having their horse in the stable and he never runs the race. The way the regional is set up, you only need 21/2 pitchers to move on. And, you have to beat someone good with your No. 2 at some point.”
Providence coach Mark Smith believes there’s a strategy in selecting the right pitcher to start the postseason opener.
“I have always viewed it as which pitcher gives us the best chance to win on that day and who we are playing,” said Smith, who guided Providence to the Class 4A state title a year ago. “Does a team have a predominantly left- or right-handed lineup? Do they struggle vs. left-handed pitching? A lot goes into our decision.”
At the same token, looking ahead could mean you are looking behind.
“Being in a single-elimination format, you really don’t have the luxury of looking ahead,” Smith said. “You need to focus on that game, that day.”
Gardner-South Wilmington coach Jon Posing looks at the defensive team behind the pitcher as the tipping point.
“I went into the week with all three of my top pitchers ready to go,” Posing said of the Panthers, who were eliminated in a 5-0 loss to Illinois Lutheran in the first round of the Class 3A tournament. “I decided to go with Brandon Riggi because it gives us our best defensive team.”
Lockport’s Austin Mastela did not start the year like he wanted, hitting .179 a month into the season.
Over the past 18 games, the senior is hitting .600 with 29 RBI. He has 32 hits, 11 doubles, two triples, three homers and seven stolen bases. Lockport (23-12) went 13-5 over those games and earned a share of the SouthWest Suburban Blue Division with Joliet West (20-14). The Tigers won six of their last seven conference games to win the program’s first league championship since splitting with Joliet Central in 2009.
Speaking of hot, Joliet West’s Matt Koran is hitting .463 (19-for-41) with six homers, eight doubles and 22 RBI over his past 13 games. The Tigers went 9-4 in those games.