ST. CHARLES – St. Charles East senior pitchers Mike Boehmer and Adam Eck find that much hasn't changed since their first encounter in seventh grade travel ball.
"We were complete opposites even then," Boehmer said. "Normally, it'd either be I'd start and he would finish the game, or he would start and I would finish it. Because it was just two completely different looks."
Boehmer, a control-based right-hander who's a few inches shorter than Eck, a hard-throwing lefty, will take the reins of the Saints' postseason pitching with his teammate.
But, much like last season, when they largely were understudies on a senior-laden staff, both starters know and trust in the team's bullpen reinforcements.
"It definitely helps to have a bunch of guys who can pitch so our arms aren't sore and so guys are good to go when they're needed," Eck said.
East coach Len Asquini figures there's no reason to disrupt the balance created by two seniors who were reliable innings-eaters and helped the Saints stay in the thick of the Upstate Eight Conference River Division race for much of the season.
The Saints outscored River champion Batavia, 7-5, in taking two of three games to win a conference series in late April. The staff allowed just 21 runs in the team's last nine River games, winning eight.
Junior left-hander Austin Regelbrugge, whose velocity is only slightly behind Eck's mid-80s range, served as the third starter during the regular season. On Saturday, junior Kyle Cook reinforced the Saints' depth with a no-hitter at Lake Park to close the regular season.
In the playoffs, Regelbrugge will look to fill in as the first arm out of the bullpen, following the lead of 2013 graduate Troy Dykhuis, who complemented fellow seniors Matt Starai and Nick Huskisson as the Saints finished fourth in class 4A.
"That third guy, do we go to him quicker? Maybe we go to him a little bit quicker if we get into a little trouble and we've got a little more confidence because that guy's got a lot of innings, a lot of experience," Asquini said.
Juniors Jake Milosch and Mick Vyzral also have been effective, with each Vyzral save adding to a single-season school record that stands at eight entering the 4A Hoffman Estates Regional.
Vyzral entered the season as a starting candidate but filled into a role that needed plugging, too.
"We don't have to go out there and throw every inning," Boehmer said. "We know if we can get four or five innings in, we know Vyz is going to go out there and get the save."
East noticed a promising pitching trend developing in 2013, when it advanced to the Phil Lawler Summer Classic state tournament on the heels of the IHSA state run.
"We like that. It helps us when a guy gets in trouble, we go right to another guy we know is going to pound the zone, hit his spots," Asquini said. "And top of that, those top three, four guys can be so different in how they deliver and what their stuff is."
Boehmer and Eck know what that's about.
BASEBALL REGIONALS BREAKDOWN
Best first-round matchup: (2) Kaneland vs. (3) Aurora Central Catholic at 3A Plano Regional semifinal, 4:30 p.m. Thursday. The two teams met Friday in nonconference play, with ACC earning a 6-0 win behind Matt Rahn's six innings of three-hit ball and strong offensive outputs from Michael Fidler (two doubles) and Jared Smith (three hits). The Knights contended for the Northern Illinois Big 12 East crown for much of the spring before fading late. How much has playing 4A schools such as Batavia and Cary-Grove down the stretch steeled the Knights?
Best potential regional final: (2) St. Charles East vs. (10) South Elgin at 4A Hoffman Estates Regional. River and Valley tend to blend when these two close rivals meet in Upstate Eight Conference crossovers. The teams' April 10 meeting in South Elgin only added intrigue to the recent series, as Saints' first baseman Ben Smith delivered the big hit with two outs in the seventh inning, helping East and Mike Boehmer get the best of a pitching duel with Michigan-bound Storm righty Ryan Nutof.
Best area bet to win a regional: Batavia at 4A York Regional. Yeah, yeah, yeah, the top-seeded Bulldogs remember last year's postseason malaise, but have long since moved past a regional opener upset in 2013. Want proof? How does a UEC River title and 20-game winning streak to enter the postseason sound? "If we just go out there and play our baseball, good things will happen. … Good pitching, good defense and the bats will come," second baseman Jeremy Schoessling said. Coach Matt Holm earned his 400th career victory last week.
Potential dark horse: Geneva at 4A Lake Park Regional. A fifth seed usually does not an underdog make, but remember, the outline for the Vikings' sectional was released just a few hours before Florida State-bound sophomore shortstop Nick Derr suffered a season-ending broken finger in his right, throwing hand. The Vikings have shown resolve from injuries all season, so what's one more challenge. Their first opponent, the host Lancers, was no-hit by St. Charles East Saturday. – Kevin Druley, firstname.lastname@example.org