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It was just a month ago that it seemed like the tide may have been turning in the EI. After a couple years of mediocrity, the Swedes had swept the Dutchmasters in a doubleheader and started 6-0, opening up a two-game league lead and most importantly playing with a bundle of confidence.
Four weeks later, it’s like some things never change. At 12-2 overall, Buckley is in solid position to win its fourth straight regular-season title. Paxton has lost five in a row, falling to 8-6.
The difference? It’s all about the confidence an identity provides, and more specifically, having something or someone you’re supremely confident in, an aspect to fall back on in the tough times. The Swedes don’t have that right now.
They have solid pitching but lack someone dominant enough to throw that complete-game shutout that could make up for subpar performances elsewhere. On the championship-contending teams of the mid-2000s, maybe the Swedes would’ve ground out wins with a patient, talented and opportune offense replete with veteran hitters. As it is now, they have good hitters but are too often too aggressive, and that’s hurt when they’ve fallen behind.
In reality, Buckley isn’t much better than Paxton. A few misleading stats aside, the Dutchmasters have struggled to hit for long stretches this season. But they have a safety net in the form of ace right-hander Paul Phillips.
When their offense had to bat five pitchers in a game at Colfax earlier this month, Phillips tossed a complete-game seven-hitter. When a big game loomed in Paxton two weekends ago, he was dominant in throwing a shutout. When Buckley mustered no hits through five innings against an average Central Illinois team Sunday, he kept his squad in the game, allowing just one run on the day and giving his offense time to come around.
The Swedes don’t have that identity right now that Paul Phillips provides the Dutchmasters, and that’s making all the difference in the standings. It will also be the difference in the postseason if something doesn’t change, because Paxton has to have something in the arsenal that it can rely on every week.