Expectations accompany playing baseball at Black Hawk College.
The Braves’ program has a tradition of success and a reputation for reaching the NJCAA Region IV Division II regional tournament on a nearly annual basis.
This year’s team fits that description, although it has taken a very different path to advance to the four-team regional which begins Friday at Madison College.
“I’m proud of the way this team has come together at the perfect time,’’ 14th-year coach Arnie Chavera said. “There was a time when I wondered if we would finish .500, but this team, they’ve come together. While they won't go 41-9 or 45-10 like some of our teams, they're finding a way now to make good things happen.’’
From 14-16 at one point on the back end of a nine-game losing streak to wins in nine of their last 11 games to currently sit at 23-18, this Black Hawk team has shown some grit.
Chavera saw the pieces start to fall into place as the Braves played eight games in the final four days of the regular season, positioning Black Hawk to face Arrowhead Conference rival Carl Sandburg to open postseason play.
“Those eight games in four days may have been the best thing that happened to us,’’ Chavera said. “We needed everybody to get through it and it seemed to bring everybody together as a team.’’
That momentum carried over into the postseason match-up the Braves wanted.
Black Hawk avenged four regular-season losses by winning a best-of-three series against Carl Sandburg to advance to the double-elimination tourney that is qualifier for the Junior College World Series, earning that by overcoming a 4-0 deficit Sunday to win 6-4 in the third-and-deciding game.
“Even down four runs, there was a feeling we were going to get it done,’’ said shortstop Sam Stonskas, a sophomore from North Scott. “The last few games, this team has found its swagger. We’re playing baseball the way Black Hawk is supposed to play it, playing together as a team.’’
Stonskas and first baseman Jake Conley, a sophomore from Durant, credit the Braves pitching staff with getting it done.
Pitchers Cody Daniels and Adrien Reese, both sophomores from Moline, say it has been the offense and defense that has made a recent difference.
In reality, it’s probably been a little bit of everything that has brought the balanced Braves together.
Freshman Nick Traystman leads Black Hawk in batting with a .390 average, while Nick Acri, a sophomore from Pleasant Valley, is hitting .379. Conley is batting .356 and leads the team with 41 RBI while Stonskas is hitting at a .338 pace.
On the mound, Daniels leads the team with a 3.72 ERA and at 3-1, he joins Nick Villasenor, Ben Steidler, Niko Klebosits, Quinn Waterhouse, Kyle Stoddard and Reese with records of .500 or better with four or more decisions on a pitching staff that has seen Drew Dominik record seven saves.
“This has been an up down year, a win streak, a losing streak and now winning again, and it has tested all of us. The last games of the regular season, things started to fall into place and getting a chance to play Sandburg again, a team that swept us, that was a match-up we looked forward to,’’ Conley said.
The Braves played that way, winning the first game 9-7, competing in a 6-5 setback in the second game before taking the deciding game.
“We are a better team than we showed a month ago and we proved that over the weekend against the best-hitting team I’ve faced in my two years here,’’ Conley said. “Our pitchers, they really took control when we needed them most.’’
Daniels sees it as a collaborative thing.
“The hitters, they’ve had our backs,’’ Daniels said. “When we’ve given up a couple of runs, they’ve come right back and put a couple of runs on the board. We’re here playing for each other and that’s why this is working.’’
Getting to that point took some time.
Weather was a factor, postponing a number of games.
“I think for everybody it was tough to get into a rhythm,’’ Reese said. “We had so many games called, it was really tough but now, guys are really locked in. It’s been fun to watch it come together the way it has at right time.’’
Stonskas sees that as well.
“If we play the way we did at Sandburg, keep believing in each other and working together, we can play with any team we’ll face at the regional,’’ Stonskas said. “We can keep on surprising people and reach our potential.’’