For an idea on how tough Prairie Ridge’s pitchers have been late in the season, consider this: Austin Covers allowed one earned run in six innings Saturday, and his ERA went up.
Covers had a 0.63 ERA before the Wolves defeated Jacobs, 4-1, for the Class 4A McHenry Sectional baseball championship and a 0.72 ERA after the game.
The senior left-hander threw 14 ground-ball outs in six innings in the kind of dominating performance Prairie Ridge has come to expect from him and Ben Cilano.
The Wolves (23-16) do not have the scariest hitting lineup in the tournament, but their pitching has allowed only eight hits and two runs in four games. That is why Prairie Ridge finds itself in the Rockford Aviators Supersectional at 6 p.m. Monday against Mundelein (36-2).
“The reason we’re here is not our offense, not even because of our defense,” Wolves coach Glen Pecoraro said. “The reason we’re in this place right now is our pitching. I can’t say enough about the job coach [Andy] Deain has done.”
Deain was a standout pitcher for Prairie Ridge in Pecoraro’s first stint as coach. He suffered an ACL tear playing intramural basketball and missed his senior season but finished with a 22-1 career record.
Deain pitched at Northern Illinois, where he posted a 14-3 career record and 4.11 ERA. He also pitched for the Joliet Slammers before joining Pecoraro as pitching coach. Cilano (5-0, 0.69 ERA, 55 strikeouts in 51 innings) will get the start against Mundelein, while Covers (4-0, 0.72, 42 strikeouts in 39 1/3 innings) likely would get the state semifinal Friday at Joliet’s Silver Cross Field if the Wolves win.
“They’re throwing very, very well,” Deain said. “They just stick to the plan and don’t try to do too much. We try to tell them, especially during this playoff run, this game is no different than the first game of the season. You don’t want them to have to be special, they’ve been special the whole time.”
Deain considers former pitching coach Chuck Lowitzki, who now coaches at NAIA Cornerstone University in Michigan, a lasting influence on his career. Lowitzki was with Pecoraro, took over when Pecoraro stepped down in 2007, then returned with Pecoraro when he came back in 2010.
“When I was in college and pitching professionally, I’d call Chuck up and take lessons with him,” Deain said. “When I came here, I had the same philosophy. I take a lot of credit I get as coach and give it to Chuck.”
The players appreciate Deain’s manner and acumen.
“He does a great job,” Covers said. “He’s the best pitching coach around. He knows so much and knows how to teach us how to go out there and deal.”
Right fielder Jack Myers has assumed the closer’s role late in the season and thrived there, finishing all four postseason games.
“I trust everything [Deain] does,” Myers said. “Every pitch he calls. Whether it’s mechanics, feel, different grip, I trust him 100 percent. He can be a college coach.”
Catcher Dustin Thelander said Deain’s attention to detail is crucial.
“He’s second to none,” Thelander said. “He’s always working with them one-on-one with what they need to work on specifically every day. They can make the little adjustment, thanks to coach.”
Although Prairie Ridge will face a team with 13 more victories, it will take comfort in seeing Cilano on the mound with a trip to state on the line.
“I love our chances,” Thelander said. “Our team’s battled all year, man, with Big Ben on the bump, I really like what we’re doing here. This is a lot of fun.”