For a program that has accomplished everything in the last decade except win a state championship, the goals veteran St. Joseph-Ogden High School baseball coach Josh Haley has established for his 2019 team are straightforward.
And don’t differ from what the eighth-year coach has set for his previous SJO teams:
—Compete every day with energy and enthusiasm
— Earn a top-two seed in the sub-sectional
— Play in Peoria
The Spartans have already faced a rigorous schedule during the season’s first two weeks, all in an effort to ensure SJO is ready to go once the postseason arrives in mid-May and the challenge of playing in the state tournament at Dozer Park in downtown Peoria intensifies with each game.
SJO (5-4) is scheduled to host Westville at 4:30 p.m. on Thursday after the Spartans won 12-2 in five innings on Tuesday at Salt Fork but lost 2-1 at home on Wednesday to Centennial.
The win against the Storm came after a 2-0 loss last Friday at Morton. Both Morton and Centennial are Class 3A schools, with Morton the defending 3A state champion.
This is on top of SJO suffering a 4-0 loss to Belleville West, a 4A school, on March 15 as part of the PBR Metro East Kickoff Classic.
“We have a similar schedule to what we have set up in the past,” Haley said. “It should have us prepared for whatever we will see in the postseason.”
SJO has five returning starters and 13 returning players from last year’s team that finished 21-15 and won the program’s sixth consecutive 2A regional championship.
Seniors Adam Frerichs, Adam Rose
Other returnees from 2018 include seniors Nick Boggs and Caleb Johnson, juniors Drew Coursey, Keegan McCarty, Jaden Miller, Brayden Weaver
Along with Rose, Burnett, McCarty, Martini, junior Joe Acton and Johnson are expected to shoulder the majority of innings as SJO’s starting pitchers.
“We have a very deep rotation,” Haley said. “There’s a lot of talent in this group and many are underclassmen. Our pitching and defense will be a strength. We have a lot of options to put on the mound.”
The nine Illini Prairie Conference games the Spartans will play this season starts on April 4 with a 4:30 p.m. game at St. Thomas More.
Other league games on the docket are as follows: April 8 at home against Rantoul, April 11 at Bloomington Central Catholic, April 15 at home against Unity, April 18 at Pontiac, April 20 at Chillicothe Illinois Valley Central, April 29 at Olympia, May 2 at home against Monticello and May 8 at home against Prairie Central. All of those games except for the one at Chillicothe IVC (11 a.m.) are slated to start at 4:30 p.m.
“I believe our conference schedule is similar to our nonconference schedule,” Haley said. “t will be important to compete each day, but we treat every game the same. We have never emphasized a conference game importance over a nonconference game. They are all important.”
The games will take on more significance once regional action gets going in mid-May.
The fact SJO has won at least 20 games in every season with Haley in the dugout, plus the postseason success — sectional titles in 2013, 2016 and 2017 with state runner-up finishes in 2016 and 2017 —of recent past doesn’t diminish what SJO fans hope is another successful baseball season for the Spartans.
“We continue to set the expectation at a high level, yet understand that past success doesn’t lead to inherited wealth this season,” Haley said. “This is a new season, and it is our job to compete and do what is necessary to be successful this year. The expectation is to continue to be in the position to make a postseason run. (Winning a) regional is hopefully just the first step for this team in reaching their goals.”