Some of its recent games have taken the Annawan-Wethersfield baseball co-op to minor-league parks including The Corn Crib in Normal and O'Brien Field in Peoria.|
But apart from next month's postseason, the Titans will probably not face down any contests bigger than a pair of upcoming doubleheaders that could determine whether or not they can repeat as Lincoln Trail Conference champions.
First, A-W (13-3, 7-1 LTC) has a doubleheader with a perennially solid ROWVA club to look forward to today, followed by a make-up conference contest with Princeville on Friday before it can turn its attention to Saturday's crucial league twinbill with Mercer County (11-1), which is 9-0 in the LTC.
"Princeville could be a trap game for us,'' said A-W coach Jeff Parsons. "We beat them handily earlier, but they've also swept ROWVA, and things can go differently on the road. Then we have the two games with Mercer County, then play (first-place) Ridgewood Monday. The next seven days will really tell the tale about the Titans and our LTC title hopes.''
Mercer County, likewise faces a potential "trap'' situation today when it takes on Biggsville West Central in a doubleheader. While the Heat have lost eight of nine league games, Golden Eagles' coach Nick Basala isn't taking anything for granted.
"We've actually talked about that, about how we've got to stay focused,'' said Basala. "West Central has put together some good games, and played the teams at the top of the conference pretty tight. But we've got a pretty good group of leaders, who know what to do and how to stay focused, and they've done a good job of keeping the younger guys focused.''
Pitching has been one of the Golden Eagles' biggest strengths, with sophomore Blake Dillavou stepping up as the staff ace with his 4-0 record. Seniors Tanner Matlick and Darrin Harrison are each 2-0.
"We knew pitching was going to be one of our biggest strengths,'' said Basala. "We worked hard on that in the offseason, and it's showed.''
At the plate, Mercer County is batting over .400 as a team, led by junior pitcher/infielder Ryan Garrett's .659 clip and including Matlick's .515 average, with both driving in over 20 runs. Defense -- perhaps the Eagles' biggest preseason question mark -- has also been a plus.
"We're much improved defensively,'' said Basala. "We've only made 13 errors in 12 games, so we're picking it pretty good right now. That was the biggest thing we needed to improve on, and we've done that.''
Likewise, Annawan-Wethersfield also boasts a deep and talented pitching staff. Seniors Tyler Litton and Cody Phillips check in at 4-0 and 3-0, respectively, with junior Matt Jenkins sporting a 3-1 mark. At the plate, senior center fielder Trey Hannam leads a balanced lineup, having rattled off 14 hits in his last 18 at-bats.
After opening the season with eight straight wins, the Titans have won four in a row. Among their more recent wins was a 6-2 decision over reigning Class 2A state champion Normal U-High in a game played at The Corn Crib.
"We felt good about ourselves after that, then we lost two straight (including a 4-2 LTC setback at Ridgewood). Baseball can be a humbling game,'' said Parsons. "That helped get us re-focused a bit.''
That approach can only help the Titans as they look to make their way through the next three games before getting ready for Saturday's 9 a.m. showdown with the Eagles at Annawan's Howes Park.
"We've won two conference titles the last four years, and we've done that by trying to focus on one game at a time,'' Parsons stated. "The first one we won in 2009, we were 4-4 and had to win eight straight to win the LTC. From that point on, as a staff we always talk about focusing one game at a time.''