At the beginning of last week, the Morris Redskins had a 1-4 record in Northern Illinois Big 12 Conference East varsity baseball.
The teams the Redskins have faced since, DeKalb and Rochelle, are in the midst of down seasons. Against them, the Redskins have been dominant enough to maintain life in the conference race.
Morris is now 6-4 in NIB12 East play after sweeping DeKalb last week and winning their first two games against Rochelle by a combined score of 26-7 to begin the current week. Sycamore defeated Kaneland 2-1 Tuesday to improve to 8-2 and maintain its lead in the conference. Second-place Yorkville improved to 8-3 Tuesday by beating DeKalb 8-6. Five more conference games remain for Morris.
“We’ve responded very well after digging ourselves a big hole,” Morris coach Todd Kein said. “From our perspective, we just have to keep winning. Whether or not it will be enough isn’t in our control.”
The Redskins’ chances might be slimmed further by the status of their pitching staff. Two members of the rotation, ace Tim Smyk and Brian Henry, were already battling injuries when starter Nick Evola left it after being struck by a line drive in the first inning. Evola was taken to the hospital; his status going forward was not immediately known after the game.
What could result from the injury situation is expanded pitching roles for other members of the team.
Christian Niewinski, who threw 66 pitches in relief Tuesday and got the win, is among the candidates for more responsibility. Niewinski has never made a varsity start.
“You never know what’s going to happen,” Niewinski said. “Whenever I’m needed to pitch, I’ll be ready.”
Another preview of what is to come for the Redskins may have been put on display Tuesday. Right-hander Brock Kukman followed Niewinski’s effort with two scoreless relief innings.
“I think Brock was making his first varsity appearance. I’ve never caught him before,” Morris catcher Jake Capko said. “Three of our top four pitchers are down right now — ‘Bubba’ (Henry), Tim Smyk and obviously now with ‘Evo’ (Evola) I love ‘Evo.’ He was doing so well. It’s so tough to see him go down like this.
“Our team is going through a lot of adversity right now. What makes me feel good is we have some pitchers you haven’t even seen yet who I know can do the job. Trevor Lines has had a lot of success pitching in the past at the lower levels. Ricky Pelnarsh can come in. Matt Bernickus is another one. I feel confident in all of those guys that they can come in and we’ll be OK.”
Behind whoever is able to take the ball, the Redskins know they have to put their latest misfortune behind them and be ready to play Wednesday at Sycamore in a make-up game. Their hopes of a conference championship may depend on their winning streak continuing.
“It’s a must-win game for us,” Kein said.