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Repeat success for St. Francis baseball

For the Sun-Times

St. Francis of Joliet had a rough ride early in the baseball season, but ever since play began in the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference, things have gone the Saints’ way.

The Saints (26-24, 22-8) have wrapped up a bid to the NAIA tournament as the regular-season champion in the CCAC, which also will send its tournament champion. St. Francis clinched Tuesday with a 3-2, 7-1 sweep of Roosevelt, then topped Purdue North Central 6-1 on Wednesday.

In nonconference play, a string of weather cancellations led St.  Francis to turn single games on a March trip to Florida into doubleheaders.

‘‘It tested us,’’ said coach Brian Michalak, whose Saints also won the CCAC regular-season title last year. ‘‘You find out what you have and what you need to work on.’’

What has clicked best for the Saints has been pitching, led by senior Adam Panayotovich (11-2, 1.40, 102 strikeouts and only 11 walks in 96 ‰ innings).

‘‘You have to start with pitching, and when you talk about pitching, you talk about Adam,’’ Michalak said. ‘‘Since we got back, all of our pitchers have been doing a much better job of throwing strikes.’’

Pro scouts have been out to look at Panayotovich, who throws in the upper 80s and lower 90s and has good command of three pitches.

“He has the bulldog mentality,” Michalak said. “He doesn’t want to come out. If I came out to the mound, he’d probably tell me to go back, and that would be the best move I ever made.”

Among other keys are two former catchers. First baseman Matt Scott, who’s hitting .335, came to St. Francis as a catcher. Brandon Mendoza, hitting .381, is in his second year as the starting shortstop after two years as the starting catcher, and he’s been all-CCAC at both positions.

“His freshman year, we were practicing in the armory and several pitchers were throwing bullpens, and we needed extra catchers,” Michalak said. “I called the freshman – the seniors aren’t going to do it – and said, ‘Hey Brandon, you ever catch?’ He said, ‘Sure, in Little League,’ like they all do. I watched for 10 minutes and thought, ‘There’s our starting catcher right there.’ ”

Lewis No. 1

In most sports, Lewis plays in NCAA Division II. But in men’s volleyball, the Flyers not only compete in Division I, they’re at the head of the pack — 26-2 going into Friday night’s Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association championship match at home against No. 2 Loyola, which beat No. 5 Ohio State on Wednesday.

The Flyers reached the title match with a 25-22, 25-14, 25-18 sweep of visiting Lindenwood. Lewis senior Lucas Yanez tied his season high with 12 digs, and three seniors reached double digits in kills as Greg Petty had 13 and Geoff Powell and Eric Fitterer had 11 each.