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Albrecht rights Hawks’ ship at cost of hair color

Season on the brink

Published: Friday, June 14, 2013 11:22 p.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, June 14, 2013 11:22 p.m. CDT
Caption
Oregon's Adam Albrecht is Sauk Valley Media's coach of the year.

There are at least two good reasons to explain those flecks of gray dotting the otherwise black mane of Adam Albrecht.

One is genetics. He's following the same follicle path of his father, Carl, another man who went gray before his time.

Reason No. 2: Albrecht had a front-row seat for the roller-coaster ride that was the 2013 Oregon High School baseball season.

"Coaching is giving me gray hair," Albrecht said with a smile on Wednesday, a few weeks removed from an unlikely deep run in the Class 2A playoffs. "My father had gray hair when he was 18, and I started getting gray hair when I was 18. Coaching doesn't make it any better."

The Hawks rose from the depths this season to come within a whisker of qualifying for the IHSA state baseabll tournament. Such an achievement seemed unattainable in the middle of April, when they sported a 2-8 record, but by the end of May, Oregon was a well-oiled machine.

It was Albrecht who pushed all the right buttons, and for that, he is Sauk Valley Media's Baseball Coach of the Year for the 2013 season.

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Oregon had the look of a team that was coming apart at the seams the first third of the season. Lousy weather played havoc with the Hawks' schedule, and when they did play, they didn't play well. They were shut out in a home-and-home series against their bitterest rival, Byron, then dropped a doubleheader against Richmond-Burton by a combined score of 23-1.

Close losses to Forreston and Rockford Christian followed, and Albrecht, 28, had a team in turmoil.

"You start out 2-8 and you can kind of see, 'Alright, are the attitudes going to tip the wrong way, or are they going to tip the good way?' Albrecht said. "Are you able to keep the morale high enough to keep them wanting to play? Truthfully, i knew these kids had it in them that they could, but they had to prove to themselves they could."

Albrecht has coached freshman basketball at Oregon the past 4 years, and he is an admitted screamer when trouble arises on the hardwood. In baseball, though, he has a gentler touch. He explains to his players what they are doing wrong, and what they need to do to correct it.

"With this group, that really seemed to work really well," Albrecht said. "Obviously I know some groups respond differently to different styles and different approaches. Sometimes you get people all riled up, and if you get yelling and screaming yourself, then your kids get out of control. If I act calm, then they'll act calm, even if things don't necessarily go their way."

As the weather improved and the Hawks were able to conduct practices outside, as opposed to in the Blackhawk Center, the team's performance improved. Getting back to the basics was the approach Albrecht took.

"If you pay attention to details, and you work and hammer those out, I firmly believe you can be successful," Albrecht said. "If you don't beat yourself, you can be in any game. I like to focus on the fundamentals."

"We just really stressed the fundamentals," senior shortstop/pitcher Alex Cain added, "and made sure we came to play every day. Some days we'd go out there, but we weren't really there to play. He made sure we were all hyped up and ready to go each game."

After the 2-8 start, Oregon won six of its next eight, then endured a four-game losing streak before closing the regular season with a pair of wins. It left the Hawks with a 10-14 record entering the postseason, and they were the fifth seed in their own regional.

That gave Albrecht some ammunition to play with.

"I told them the seeding doesn't matter," Albrecht said. "I know we're a better team than this. You know we're a better team than this. You have to go out now and prove yourselves."

Oregon did just that with wins against Newman, Princeton and Mendota to win its own regional, and the magic continued at the Byron Sectional.

First, the Hawks handled Erie-Prophetstown 7-1, then came the team's signature game – a 5-4, 8-inning thriller against Byron. A two-out, two-run rally tied the game in the seventh inning, and Mason Smith's seeing-eye infield single won it in the eighth.

"The Byron game will probably be one of the games I will never forget in coaching, no matter how long it is," Albrecht said. "It was crazy, because we were down to our last strike at least a couple of times."

The craziness continued in what turned out to be the Hawks' last game of the season. They jumped out to a 4-0 lead on Eureka before eventually dropping a 7-6, weather-delayed decision. The Oregon players were crushed afterward, but Albrecht did his best to get their spirits back up.

"I know the kids were disappointed and upset," Albrecht said, "but I told them after the game, 'Someday, at some point, you will look back on this and be like, man, that was truly awesome.' "

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Albrecht was an all-conference baseball and basketball player at River Ridge in the early 2000s. In baseball, he played center field, but the Wildcats were very young and didn't enjoy much success on the diamond.

In basketball, River Ridge won a pair of regionals when Albrecht was a junior and a senior, but the Wildcats' path to go any further was blocked by powerful Mount Carroll squads.

He then played basketball for two seasons at Black Hawk College in Moline.

"I was just the guy they'd put in to play defense," the 5-foot-11 Albrecht said. "I'd guard anybody, a hustle guy – I got after it. I always tell everybody it doesn't matter how big you are. If you want it more, you can have it. I was the guy that did all the dirty work."

After Black Hawk, he went to Western Illinois University, and graduated in 2008. He taught for a semester at West Central High School in Biggsville before coming to Oregon in the fall of 2009.

He is a chemistry teacher at the high school, and coaches two boys sports. In the winter, he coached the freshman basketball team, but will move up to the sophomore level this season. In the spring, he coached the freshman baseball team for two seasons before taking over the varsity program last season.

He came to Oregon to not only further his career, but to be closer to his family. His parents, Carl and Rene, live just outside of Elizabeth, and Adam is the oldest of their six children. He is tight with them, and the family will spend this weekend in Brooklyn, Mich. for the Nascar Sprint Cup race.

He enjoys his role as big brother to his siblings, and noted it may also help him as a coach.

"I think it helps you have that demeanor that you want to be helpful," Albrecht said, "and have people look up to you as somebody they want to mimic or follow. I do think that sometimes has an effect on these kids. One big thing is you have to have these kids respect you, and I think that's one positive thing that I can say I have."

Now that summer is here, Albrecht has a chance to kick back and relax a bit. He has camps and summer leagues coming up, but he also has plenty of golf planned at Silver Ridge and PrairieView with his best bud, varsity basketball coach Quinn Virgil. He seemed to be happy and content.

"I didn't really know what all this was going to bring," Albrecht said, "but with the success we've been having, and I like teaching and coaching here, and I think I'm pretty firmly planted here. I feel like I want to stay here and build something."

Albrecht file

High school: River Ridge, 2003

College: Western Illinois, 2008

Age: 28

Resides: Oregon

FYI: Completed fourth year as chemistry teacher and basketball/baseball coach at OHS. ... Guided baseball team to 15-15 record and supersectional berth this spring.

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