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With the Record sports editor having recently moved on and having pitched against both Buckley and Royal during the 2012 regular season as a member of the Paxton Swedes, I was invited to give my opinions on this weekend’s Eastern Illinois Baseball League championship series. For the record, I suffered 4-0 losses to both teams, so I was an unbiased pitcher, even though I had once played for the Dutch Masters during 2009-10.
#1 Seed Royal vs. #2 Seed Buckley
Game 1 – 2 p.m. on Saturday at Scheiwe Field in Buckley
Game 2 – 1 p.m. on Sunday at Franzen Field in Gifford
Game 3 (if necessary) on Sunday at 3:30 p.m.
What to watch for from Royal:
— Kevin Sweeney (2nd in batting during the regular season)
— Kevin Bird (Top run producer for the Giants – 2 HR, 14 RBI)
— Markus White (speedy top-of-the-order player can create runs)
— Jesse Remington (Lanky lefty beat Buckley during regular season)
Royal defeated Buckley 2 of 3 games during the season to earn the regular-season title. The Giants earned a berth in the finals by tallying seven runs in the eighth inning off EI Pitcher of the Year Seth Woods as Royal edged Watseka 8-5 on Sunday.
Bird seemed to me like the only guy with real power in the lineup, but in my mind they are the best team 1 through 9 in the batting order. White runs well and makes things happen and Sweeney may have been the most consistent hitter in the EI this summer; he’s just a tough out. Blake Hoveln is the team’s SS and he’s solid defensively and you have to make good pitches to get him out. Gentry Van Allen may be the offensive surprise; he’s a former Dutch Master and may feel like he’s got something extra to prove and he had three hits off Woods last Sunday. On the mound, I was impressed with Remington, who allowed just 2 earned runs in 12 2/3 innings against the Dutch Masters. I suppose I should think better of Chris Beard, who had an earned run average of 0.44 over 20 2/3 innings and tossed a two-hit shutout in the game I pitched against Royal. But he doesn’t overwhelm you with his velocity, so Royal will have to play stellar defense for him to succeed against Buckley.
What to watch for from Buckley:
— Brandon McFarland (2011 EI Player of the Year was among top hitters again)
— Bryce Redeker (hit .536 in half a season)
— Josh Krumwiede (among top EI hitters during regular season and was solid at 2B)
— Paul Phillips (2011 EI Pitcher of the Year was nearly as good in 2012)
— Drew Watts (Best #2 starter in the EI whose unselfishness was vital to his team.
On Saturday, Buckley routed Colfax 10-0 to avenge a regular-season loss and then edged Gifford-Flatville 4-3 at home on Sunday to earn a berth in its second straight finals berth, thanks to homers by Redeker and Brandon Moyer.
Clearly, my former team has the best pitching in the league with Phillips and Watts regularly going deep into games. That puts them in great position in a 3-game series. The Dutch Masters may also have the best catcher in Barry McDonley, a solid hitter who throws well. Add the power and speed of McFarland and Redeker and there’s a lot to like about Buckley’s chances. However, in my two starts against Buckley (we won 3-1 and lost 4-0), the bottom of the order for the Dutch Masters was nearly non-existent offensively. That’s a problem.
Any X factors?
There are two I can imagine. The first has to do with Royal’s pitching. The Paxton Swedes may have done Buckley a huge favor this summer by forcing Nick McCann to throw 150 pitches in a 6-4 win on July 1. A week later, McCann bowed out after two innings in a game against Buckley and hasn’t pitched since; McCann’s availability is a difference maker. For Buckley, half the battle this year has been getting everyone out on the same day; Jeff Meyer is one guy whose availability may really help if he’s on the playoff roster. During a double header sweep of Paxton in June, he led off and reached base seven times in nine plate appearances. He’s that veteran presence you need during a championship series.
Okay, I’ll give one – whoever wins Game 1 will win this series. Remington has pitched with Phillips twice this season, both one-run contests, so Saturday’s opener at Schiewe Field should be a dandy.