VIENNA - The 2012 baseball season was the first one in a long time in which the Mathews Mustangs weren't crowned champions of the Northeastern Athletic Conference.
A three-year reign came to an end, and Mathews' Andy Morgan, now a senior, thinks he knows why.
"Last year, there were a lot of individual kind of people," he said. "Some people didn't get along with others. But we're playing as a team this year. Everyone's doing their part, whether they're batting, DHing, playing right field or left field. We're all doing our part."
Tribune Chronicle / R. Michael Semple
Mathews’ Jeremy Forsythe, right, gets tagged out by Maplewood’s Derek Rae as Forsythe tried to get back to second.
Not too surprisingly, the newfound chemistry is leading to better results. The Mustangs are in the midst of a 13-game winning streak after dropping their first two contests of the season. Mathews stayed perfect in the NAC on Thursday with a dominant 10-2 beatdown of Maplewood, which came into the game 12-5 and 9-2 in the NAC, just two games back of the Mustangs (13-2, 10-0).
Mathews showed its superiority with a deep rotation and an equally balanced lineup. Two pitchers combined to allow two hits and worked their way out of two bases-loaded jams. Six different players helped the Mustangs bang out 12 hits. They currently have five players batting over .400, including seniors Nate Homan (.467), Morgan (.450), Aaron Suchanek (.440) along with freshman Bryan Leipply (.430) and junior Jeremy Forsythe (.467).
Forsythe was the main culprit against the Rockets. He came on in relief with Mathews up, 5-1, but Maplewood had runners on first and second with one out. Forsythe walked the No. 9 hitter to load the bases, but he quickly ended any chance of a rally with back-to-back strikeouts.
"We've got a couple good pitchers - three seniors and Jeremy is a junior," Mathews coach Jared Terlecky said. "It helps when I don't have to keep throwing a guy. Like today, (Homan) was at 68 pitches, and I could tell he was running out of steam already. Rather than leaving him in there and letting (Maplewood) come back, I was able to go to Forsythe. I have confidence in him to get the job done."
Forsythe also went 3-for-3 with two RBIs, a double and two runs scored. An inning before he came in to pitch, the Rockets loaded the bases with a two-out rally and got a base hit to right field to drive in a run. The second run was on its way home, but right fielder Cobie Pratt fired a strike to Morgan, the catcher, who applied the tag just in time.
"Cobie's throw from right field, that couldn't have been a much better play," Morgan said. "We could've given up an easy three or four runs there. If they hit the gap or Cobie doesn't make that throw, it could've gotten ugly quick."
Pratt's throw was one of several key plays made by a team that doesn't have any major holes. To go along with pitching and hitting, their fielding is solid (Pratt's throw was one of about three great plays against Maplewood). What sets them apart, Terlecky said, is their attitude.
"Everyone gets along, and that goes a long way when a team is close like that," he said. "Those seniors will organize stuff. They'll say, 'Hey, we're all going to the movies if you wanna go, or we're getting breakfast before practice.' And when these younger guys hear that, it brings them up and lets them know they're part of the team.
"They're just great leaders. If I ask them to bunt, they do it without question. And as a coach you need to be able trust guys to do that to win those close games."