At one point in the 2016 season, the Blaine baseball team was 4-9. But the Bengals got hot at the right time, winning 10 of their next 12 games to make the Class 4A state tournament. The momentum hasn’t gone away during the long offseason, as Blaine is off to a 9-2 start entering this week.
“We really preach to them about the importance of a quick start,” head coach Eric Feigum said. “Last year … we were just really fighting up against the wall a little bit. We stressed all offseason and tryouts at the start of the season how important it is to come out and be ready to go at the beginning. I think making the state tournament was a huge momentum builder for our program. We had a lot of juniors that played on that team that know what it takes.”
The Bengals have seven seniors on this year’s roster who are leading the way. Sam Riola and Alex Winslow have been mainstays on the mound.
Both are a combined 8-0 with Winslow striking out 23 batters and Riola adding 21.
Seth Miller, a junior, has been a valuable player on the bump as the third starter and the closer. He has picked up four saves already in the first 11 games.
Behind them, the Bengals have a versatile group of players that can play multiple positions. What that has allowed Feigum to do is be creative with different batting lineups.
“Batting-wise, we’ve probably got about 6-7 guys that have been mainstays,” Feigum said. “It starts with Mike Gottschalk at the top. He’s our leadoff hitter who sets the table for us. We have a run of seniors who played on our state tournament team with Riola, Reid Conlee, Lincoln Erne and Matt Laciskey mixed in there. And then we have some juniors, like Joey Messier, who have been really good. It’s been fun. I would say more than anything this year is we have depth. And that makes it fun.”
Six batters have recorded 10 hits or more, led by Laciskey’s 13. Gottschalk has 12 hits and Conlee and Erne have added 11. Conlee also has hit three home runs.
Feigum said it’s important for his team to keep doing the little things well to keep the momentum building toward the playoffs. Play great defense, throw strikes and have good at-bats are basic, but key components of the game the Bengals have excelled at.
In the first 11 games, Blaine is 5-1 against conference opponents and 3-1 against section foes. It’s been a schedule with good prep for the postseason.
“I feel like we play a pretty tough conference schedule,” Feigum said. “Everybody in the Northwest Suburban Conference can say that. The other night we were playing Centennial and we kept telling the guys this is a section kind of game. It had that feel with two good pitchers going at it and a one-run kind of game. Going through that stretch where we got really hot last year and keeping it rolling this year is something to build off of.”