BY JOHN GROCHOWSKI
For the Sun-Times
After 12 years of coaching baseball at Northern Illinois, Ed Mathey has come home to North Central. The Cardinals are glad he did.
The CCIW regular-season champions (25-14, 16-5) are the top seed of the conference tournament and open with a home game Thursday night against Carthage. Mathey entered this season ranked second on North Central’s career-victory list, having won 205 games in nine seasons ending in 2002. He tops the list at NIU with 294 victories, and in 2013, he coached the Huskies to their first MAC West championship.
Now he’s back at his alma mater, where he was an all-CCIW pitcher in 1985.
“It’s great to be back, but I never really left,” Mathey said. “Northern’s just down the road, and I’d come through here all the time on recruiting visits. Being an alum, you’re always connected.”
He inherited a veteran team with solid pitching and dangerous hitters throughout the lineup.
The pitching staff is led by junior Bryan Polowy (7-1, 1.07 ERA) and senior Ben Krusen (3-2, 3.62). Polowy was named CCIW pitcher of the week last week for the second time this season.
“He’s just been outstanding all year,” Mathey said. “He’s pitching in our No. 2 spot, and when you think about the numbers he’s put up, and that he’s given up 43 hits in 67 innings, [it] tells you a little bit about the stuff he has.
“Ben Krusen, who’s pitching in the No. 1 spot, probably is deserving of a better record because of the opponents he’s pitched against, but that’s the bane of the No. 1 spot. He’s given us a great chance to win every time out.”
On offense, the Cardinals are averaging nearly seven runs a game while hitting .312 as a team. Every hitter in the starting lineup has an on-base percentage of at least .358, with four over .400.
“We’re dangerous that way,” Mathey said. “It’s a situation where, if one guy doesn’t get it done, the next guy is very capable off doing it.”
As leaders, Mathey pointed to senior second baseman Vito DeRango (.387, 3 homers, 28 RBI), senior right fielder Joe Paparone (.352, 6 homers, 38 RBI) and senior shortstop Sam Klein (.338, 23 RBI).
“We call them steak-eaters, as in ribeyes, RBIs,” Mathey said. “A couple of newcomers in [juniors] Bobby Smith (.336, 36 RBI) and Nick Brandt (.362, team-leading .430 OBP) have really added to that.”
St. Xavier wins CCAC
Nicole Nonnemacher pitched her 15th shutout of the season, and Sarah Saunders scored the game’s only run, as St. Xavier edged St. Francis of Joliet 1-0 Saturday in the CCAC softball tournament final. Saunders’ double started the second inning, and she later scored on a wild pitch.
With an automatic bid to the NAIA tournament in hand, the No. 5 Cougars (44-5-2) will learn their assignment when the field is announced Thursday.