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PAXTON — After a splendid start to the Eastern Illinois Baseball League season, the Paxton Swedes are stuck in a five-game losing streak, and quite possibly the most frustrating part is that it’s been a little bit of everything contributing to the struggles.
“I don’t know. It just always seems like something,” Swedes player-manager Mark Prina said after his team was swept by Royal in a Sunday doubleheader in Paxton.
In a 6-4 loss in Game 1, it was a bad start to the day that undid Paxton. Starter Deven Lee didn’t have his best stuff, allowing four first-inning runs. He was hurt by a Swedes defense that allowed a ball to drop and didn’t make a play on a good chance to throw a Giants runner out at the plate as well.
The Swedes scored three times in the eighth inning, but didn’t come through with the final big hit needed with runners on base.
“Baseball does this to you sometimes,” Prina said. “You have to make your own breaks, and we’re not making our own breaks right now.”
Lee (1-1) took the loss, allowing six runs in 6 2/3 innings. Drew Locascio doubled, singled and scored for the Swedes, and Grant Meyer added a pair of hits as well.
In a 4-0 setback in Game 2, it was a stagnant offense that was the main cause of Paxton’s demise. The Swedes managed just two hits, one being a harmless single in the seventh inning after the game was all but decided.
The offensive ineptness has been a theme of late, the Swedes scoring just seven runs in their last 50 innings.
“Some guys need to be more patient. We got some young hitters who aren’t comfortable with two strikes, so they don’t work a count,” Prina said of what needs to change at the plate.
Despite the problems, Paxton had a golden opportunity to get back into Game 2 against Royal on Sunday. Trailing 2-0 entering the bottom of the third, the Swedes had a rally going after a Jesse Brucker double, a passed ball and a walk to Adam Hayes put runners on the corners with no outs and the top of the order up.
But in the turning point of the game, Brucker was picked off third base on a wild play that had Paxton manager Pat Prina arguing and fans incensed, protesting for a balk call. Royal righty Chris Beard made a spin off the mound on a pick-off move, getting Hayes caught up between first and second. After a short run-down, it looked like Hayes would be out going back to first, but he smartly avoided the tag. However, in the chaos, Brucker wandered too far off third and was gunned down when the ball was thrown behind him.
“Yeah, it’s a different game ... if he calls that balk there,” Mark Prina said.
The play was probably the case of some bad luck for the Swedes — even in deciphering the confusing balk rules, Beard’s move did seem awkward — but it was also definitely a case of self-inflicting struggles. Even with a no-call on the balk, there still would’ve been runners on the corners with no outs, but the bad baserunning severely hurt the rally opportunity for an already struggling offense.
“Baseball bites you in the butt when you don’t take advantage of your opportunities,” Prina said.
The losses dropped the Swedes to 8-6 on the season after they started 7-0 and were 8-1 at one point. Paxton’s hopes of winning the regular-season title have likely gone down the drain, as Buckley moved to 12-2 with a sweep of Central Illinois on Sunday.
Still, the Swedes believe they can do big things this year is they get back to playing like they early in the season.
“It will turn around.,” Prina said. “We just got to stay with it and stay positive. It always comes back around to you if you do the right things and play the game the right way. The tide will turn.
“It’s all about winning the tournament. We just want people to stay positive because we think if we can get it all put together at one time, we still think we have a chance.”