GENESEO — When the seeds were announced for the IHSA Class 3A baseball postseason, the Geneseo Maple Leafs were — to put it mildly — somewhat taken aback.
Drawing a No. 5 seed, the Maple Leafs were determined to show they were so much better than that, and the results so far have added up to their first regional championship since 2017.
"I knew when the seeds first came out ... I wouldn't say they were angry, but they were wondering why they were seeded lower than the team we had just beaten," said Geneseo coach Joe Nichols, referring to his squad's 9-8 win over Western Big 6 rival Rock Island on May 11, just prior to the seeding meeting where the Rocks got the No. 4 ranking.
Not only did the Leafs top Rock Island 5-2 in the teams' conference rematch on May 25, they beat the Rocks for a third time when they rallied from an early deficit for a 6-5 win in last Friday's 3A regional semifinals.
Aside from the seedings, there was a greater concern for the Geneseo players.
"The biggest issue for us was that as a lower seed, we didn't think we'd get to play at our home field again," said Nichols. "Especially in this postseason, with the higher-seeded teams getting to host games."
But after stunning top-seeded Rockford Boylan 5-3 in Monday's regional championship game, Geneseo (18-10) has assured itself of at least one more chance to play on the Stone Field diamond at Richmond Hill Park. The Leafs will welcome No. 3 Hampshire (18-16) Wednesday at 6 in a sectional semifinal matchup.
In fact, if it wins both Wednesday and in Friday's sectional championship game, Nichols' club would have the chance to play on its home field for Monday's super-sectional contest.
"Now that we're in the sectional, we've overcome that," he said of the initial concerns about not getting another home date, especially among his 11 seniors. "We get a situation now where we have at least one more home game. You can't underestimate what that does for a program.
"We'll have our 9-under and 12-under kids there to watch, and the parents and community supporting them. Quite a few of our seniors had brothers on our last sectional group, and they were the ones in the stands then. Now, they'll be passing the torch on to the next group."
With the 2020 baseball season canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, only two of the 11 senior Leafs — catcher/outfielder Nathan Beneke and pitcher/first baseman P.J. Moser — came into this spring with significant varsity experience.
Those two have emerged as two of Geneseo's leaders at the plate, along with senior pitcher/middle infielder Charlie Rice. On the mound, Rice and his twin brother Carson have become the anchors of the staff, with Moser finding his niche as the team's postseason closer.
"This group enjoys being with each other; they're very close-knit," said Nichols. "I do think that, for what they may lack in varsity experience, they've got enough talent to overcome that."