Paxton Swedes look to build on last year's improvement

PAXTON – Last year was a step in the right direction for the Paxton Swedes.

The Swedes finished the season with a 12-11 record. Prior to losing in the Eastern Illinois Baseball League Tournament semifinals, Paxton was on an eight-game winning streak that included a 12-2 win over the Central Illinois Legends that sent the team to its first semifinal game since 2009.

Swedes player/coach Mark Prina said he hopes this year will serve as another stepping stone.

“We’re going to have some more few faces, and some of the guys that added last year will be back. I think we’re still moving forward with getting better,” Prina said. “I think we were pretty decent last year and made some big strides. Hopefully, we’ll take the next step and be even better than we were last year if everything goes the way it seems like it’s going to go.”

***

Adam Carver is back after receiving the Eastern Illinois Baseball League’s Pitcher of the Year last year.

He had 58 strikeouts in 43 innings and a 6-0 record along with an earned-run average of 1.26.

“He’s ready to go,” Prina said. “He’s looking forward to it and he’ll definitely be our game-one guy.

Luke Jarvis will be looked upon to be a game-two starter, Prina said.

The left-handed Jarvis – who, Prina said, can throw up to the low- to mid-80 mile-per-hour range -- was unavailable to the team last year due to injury, but has pitched for MacMurray. Last March, Jarvis threw a no-hitter against Webster.

“He’s not overpowering, but he could be a nice game-two starter,” Prina said. “He’s a guy with some college experience, and hopefully, he’ll be able to give us enough innings for us to have a few relievers that will be able to close games out for him. It’ll be nice having two younger arms throwing at the same time consistently.”

Seth Hobbs served as a closer for the Swedes last year, and Prina said he projects a similar role for him this year.

“He started a few games, but we’ll probably use him more as a closer this year because he can play a position as well,” Prina said.

Cole Nesselrodt has been added to Paxton’s roster. He pitched for the Watseka Angels for the past five years, but the team folded.

According to the Angels’ website, Nesselrodt has an earned-run average of 4.30 with 66 strikeouts through his five years in Watseka.

“We may see him spot start once in a while and use him out of the bullpen,” Prina said. “He’s also a pretty good all-around player. Then we’ll have probably a collection of about three or four other guys throughout the summer that we’ll use based on people being gone. It’s always good to have four or five guys available to choose from.”

Craig Pinley will not be available to pitch for the Swedes as he moved to Ohio.

In his past five years with Paxton, he had an ERA of 4.75 with 128 strikeouts.

“We’re going to miss Craig,” Prina said. “Not only was he a decent pitcher and a good competitor, but he was just a good guy to have around in the dugout. I think he really helped us in the last four or five years turn this thing around just by his influence in the dugout and around the guys, helping some of these younger players progress and move forward.

“He was a guy that could compete and keep us in games when we didn’t have lot of depth on the mound, so he was a big part of this whole turnaround, and we’re definitely going to miss him. Hopefully, he’ll be back for a game or something. I don’t know what his schedule is, but it’s always great to see him.”

***

Brian Paul will also be unavailable due to a knee injury from playing for Danville Area Community College, but Alan Paul, who hit .295 with 10 RBIs last year, is returning.

Among the Swedes’ additions is a former Major League Baseball draft pick.

Sean Patrick from John A. Logan College was drafted in the 40th round – 1,381st overall -- by the Baltimore Orioles in 2000.

“Here’s a guy who can still play with professional experience,” Prina said. “That will be a big help having him in the middle of our lineup.”

Like Nesselrodt, Marshall Mikesell is also a pickup from the Angels.

“He probably won’t play much,” Prina said. “He may not be there every week, but he lives in Paxton. He’s a local guy and a good guy. It’s good to have somebody to help you if you need a guy, especially that first weekend.”

Nathan Luft, a first baseman from MacMurray, has also been added to the Swedes’ roster along with Jeffrey Thompson, an left-handed hitting outfielder from Danville Area Community College and Westville.

“He’ll play quite a bit for us,” Prina said. “I think we’ve got a good mix of college guys and a couple of other guys who have been in the league with some good experience. I didn’t add a lot, but I think the pieces that we added will definitely help make us a little deeper and more athletic. We’ll see what happens when we play, but that’s the game plan, at least.”

***

With the Angels and Central Illinois Robins both departing, the EI League is down to six teams.

“If we had to go down to six teams, we’ve got the right six teams. Watseka fell back off the last couple of years,” Prina said. “For a while, Watseka had a nice program. I hate to see those guys go, but I understand why they had to. They just couldn’t get anybody to take over that program up there. You never know – we could see that program come back.”

Each team will now play each of the five other teams in two separate doubleheaders.

“They’re probably all going to get a little better, so every weekend is going to be good baseball. It should be exciting for the fans,” Prina said. “It should make the league really competitive. I think it’s going to be as competitive of a league as we’ve had in a long time.”

Prina projects that the subtraction of the two teams may make the final weeks of the season more competitive with each team now having a better chance to claim the league’s regular-season championship.

“Every weekend is going to be a dogfight,” Prina said. “In years past, you had to sweep some teams for the whole year to even be considered in the top two or three teams, but I don’t think that’s going to be the case this year. From that standpoint, it excites me that there are going to be good games all the time. It’s going to be really competitive. It should be exciting for the fans to see good baseball most of the time.”

***

The Swedes are scheduled to start their season with a doubleheader at home against the Champaign Dream on Sunday, May 22.

However, with the Dream’s roster made up of college players whose schedules may be tied up due to postseason tournaments, Prina said he doubts that Champaign will be able to have nine players available for the season opener.

“I don’t know if they are even going to have enough guys that first weekend. In the first weekend or two, it’s tough,” Prina said. “Everybody is still in school or playing, and we’re not going to have everybody as well in the first weekend, but we’ll have 12 or 13 guys ready to play. I don’t know what’s going to happen yet.”

The Swedes will play against their archrivals, the Buckley Dutchmasters, in Paxton on Sunday, June 12, and in Buckley on Sunday, July 3.

“We’ve gotten back to where we can compete with them, but those weekends are about the fans,” Prina said. “When you have that kind of support, it makes it that much more fun to be a part of, so those are definitely two weekends that we’re looking to.

“The fans are our friends outside of the game. Everybody knows everybody from the fans’ standpoint. That makes it fun, and that’s what sports should. It should be fun. That’s why I still play.”  

PAXTON SWEDES SCHEDULE

SUNDAY, May 22

Champaign Dream at Paxton Swedes, 1 p.m.

SUNDAY, May 29

Paxton Swedes at Royal Giants, 1 p.m.

SUNDAY, June 5

Paxton Swedes at Central Illinois Legends, 1 p.m.

SUNDAY, June 12

Buckley Dutchmasters at Paxton Swedes, 1 p.m.

SUNDAY, June 19

Paxton Swedes at Gifford-Flatville Giflats, 1 p.m.

SUNDAY, June 26

Royal Giants at Paxton Swedes, 1 p.m.

SUNDAY, July 3

Paxton Swedes at Buckley Dutchmasters, 1 p.m.

SUNDAY, July 10

Central Illinois Legends at Paxton Swedes, 1 p.m.

SUNDAY, July 17

Gifford-Flatville Giflats at Paxton Swedes, 1 p.m.

SUNDAY, July 24

Paxton Swedes at Champaign Dream, 1 p.m.

SUNDAY, July 31

EI Jamboree (at Buckley)

SATURDAY, August 6

EI League Tournament quarterfinals

SUNDAY, August 7

EI League Tournament semifinals

SATURDAY, August 13

EI League Tournament championship series (Game 1)

SUNDAY, August 14

EI League Tournament championship series (Game 2 and, if necessary, Game 3)

NOTE: All scheduled events are doubleheaders unless noted otherwise

Categories (3):Prep Sports, Baseball, Sports

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