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Snowballs replace baseballs

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(BCR photo/Kevin Hieronymus)
The first practice of the baseball season was a real snap for St. Bede senior Brad Groleau and fellow Bruins pitchers, making their first pitches of the spring with towels to help strengthen and stretch out their arms. The Bruins are slated to start the season March 25 vs. rival L-P.
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(BCR photo/Kevin Hieronymus)
Bureau Valley’s McKinley Kruger prepares to get his licks in the Storm’s batting cage while Storm catcher Logan Marquez awaits the pitch. The Storm had Monday’s season opener canceled.
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(BCR photo/Kevin Hieronymus)
Princeton senior Kat Pranka fields a bunt during softball practice at Prouty Gym. The Tigresses are scheduled to open the season Thursday at Rock Falls.

What a difference a year makes in the area spring sports scene.

A year ago, Bureau County enjoyed record high temperatures pushing into the upper 70s throughout the week. Summer seemingly came before spring.

While a warming trend over the weekend has reduced the white blanket of snow that covered North Central Illinois to scattered snow piles and shrinking snowmen, the playing fields remain a soggy surface, days from being playable.

St. Bede baseball coach John Bellino said last year’s early-spring weather really spoiled a lot of people.

“Last year was an exceptional year; we got out right away,” he said. “It was the best year I’ve ever had. You take all the years I’ve coached, I’ve never gone through a year like that. I never had to worry about the field hardly. It was warm, we never wore jackets, it was warm in the dugout. It was an exceptional year.”

Bureau Valley was to open its baseball and softball seasons Monday with Stark County, but those games were canceled, along with Wednesday’s games with Wethersfield, due to wet and unplayable grounds. BV athletic director Jeff Ohlson is holding out on Saturday’s home baseball doubleheader with Forreston.

Princeton softball coach Bob James, whose team was scheduled to make its season debut on Thursday, isn’t holding his breath about starting up any time soon.

“Looks like we’re going to be cooped up for a couple more weeks. I’d be shocked if we’d play next week’s games, but you never know, I guess,” he said.

BV baseball coach John Matlick was optimistic they’d get to play soon

“I think we’re on the cusp of turning it around. Maybe we’ll get in one next week,” he said.

Meanwhile, area teams have remained indoors for practices making due until Mother Nature cooperates. A typical day at Princeton High School finds the indoor facilities to be a busy place upon the conclusion of the school day with the Tiger baseball, softball and track teams sharing the school’s two gyms.

Last Thursday, the varsity and F/S softball teams took over Prouty Gym at 3:15 p.m. for preseason workouts. As they exited the gym at 5:15 p.m., the Tiger baseball team quickly took over. Two hours later, the girls’ soccer team moved in for an evening session, still on the scene as the Prouty Gym clock struck the 9 o’clock hour.

James said you try to be as efficient as you can working out indoors, noting the Tigresses lost two practices due to snow days at school. They set up pitching machines and sliding pads as needed on a daily basis for their indoor workouts.

“We’re maximizing our time,” James said. “You try develop fundamentals and the basic skills. The kids are working hard and trying to fine tune and shake the rust off.”

The first day for spring practices was March 4. Bellino gave his team an extra week to report from basketball while waiting out Mother Nature. He brought in his boys of spring for the first time March 13, utilizing Abbott Vincent Gymnasium at the conclusion of the school day while practice for the school’s spring play was being conducted on the stage. The Lady Bruins softball team was to follow.

“We just don’t have the room a lot of people have,” Bellino said.

The Princeton, Bureau Valley and LaMoille baseball teams have the luxury of utilizing indoor batting cages.

The Tigers indoor lair includes two full batting cages and a half cage for tee work that have been put up in the Frontier building in downtown Princeton.

The Storm baseball team has two options - using the cage at the Storm Shelter or taking shelter from the elements at the farm of BVHS booster and former coach Don King. He put in a full batting cage in one of his sheds when his son, John, played for the Storm and the BV baseball teams have taken full advantage of since.

Matlick said the Storm are able to get a lot of swing repetition in the cage facing live pitching or the machine, or simply by hitting off tees. They can also have one pitcher throwing a bullpen session in the cage and another outside. The King complex also has two drop-down nets for soft-toss hitting.

“It works out good. We stay pretty busy,” Matlick said. “We do bunting off the machine and try to throw as much BP to them so then can get see it coming out of a hand rather than the machine.”

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