The Rock Falls Junior League 13-14 baseball team will be playing for a state championship tonight in Spring Valley.
But don't for a second think they feel any added pressure by being on a big stage.
With six of the 14 players having played in the Little League Central Lakes Regional 2 years ago in Indianapolis, there's a sort of been there, done that mentality with this group.
"We're used to the scenery and the situation," Matt Anderson said, "and it feels a little easier. There's not as much pressure, because we know what's going on."
That's led to a calm confidence amongst the 14 players. While they're not taking things lightly by any means, the experience on an even bigger stage in 2011 means fewer nerves when they step onto the field.
"It feels more laid back," co-captain Logan Pillars said. "We're not as worried about every little thing, and we're not making this too big of a deal. We've gone through this before, so we're not thinking too much or trying too hard; that's when we make mistakes."
That was the consensus amongst the team in Indy 2 years ago. After breezing through sectionals and state, Rock Falls struggled at the plate and in the field when they got to regionals.
Looking back on it, the players realized that they were wound up a lot tighter once they got to Indianapolis, and that affected their physical play.
But so far this postseason, those memories have been beneficial. This Rock Falls team hasn't let "falling down" get to it, according to Pillars, and instead has come through in key situations.
"We've had our ups and downs, and maybe we're not the best team around," Quinton Matznick said, "but we just find ways to pull out wins. We've got good defense and pitching, which helps a lot in big games, and we just go out and do our jobs and have fun."
Matznick is one of eight players not on that 2011 team, but the team has barely missed a beat. The Indy veterans have taken the leadership reins, and the newcomers have easily accepted their roles.
Coach Ronnie Pillars, who guided the Great Lakes Regional group, believes the attitudes and chemistry on this team are just as good as they were during that memorable run two Augusts ago.
His players agree.
"Us guys that were here last time took control, and the new guys fit in really well," Alex Cantu said. "We can tell them what to expect, and that keeps all of us more relaxed. We're all good friends from school, and we know that if we play good baseball, we'll do fine."
Like the earlier team, this group of 13- and 14-year-olds relies on defense and pitching to win games. The focus is on pitchers throwing strikes, the defense making the plays behind them, and the offense making the most of scoring chances.
It's a formula Rock Falls hopes leads to another state title. It plays today at 6 p.m. on Foley Field, at Spring Valley's Kirby Park, and would have to lose twice since it's 2-0 heading into the title tilt.
"Our pitching and defense have been really good," Cayden Roberts said, "and we've been pretty solid through our batting lineup. We've gotten some key, clutch hits, and we just have to keep all that going [tonight]."
Junior League state championship
When: 6 p.m. today
Where: Foley Field, Kirby Park, Spring Valley
So far: Rock Falls is 2-0 in the 5-team state tournament, and need just one more win to claim the state title. A loss tonight would lead to a winner-take-all game at 6 p.m. Wednesday.
At stake: A trip to the Junior League Central Regional in Fort Wayne, Ind., Aug. 3-10
FYI: Six players on this team (Matt Anderson, Alex Cantu, Bronson Mintun, Logan Pillars, Cayden Roberts & Clay Velazquez) were on the Little League 11-12 team that won state and went to the Great Lakes Regional in 2011.
Junior League 13-14
Rock Falls roster
1 Kyle Yonk 3B
2 Andy Ashley 2B
3 Logan Pillars C/P
5 Matt Anderson LF/3B
7 John Kelly LF
12 Bronson Mintun 1B
18 Zac McKinzie RF
21 Quinton Matznick P/SS/CF
23 Jake Lego 1B
24 Alex Cantu SS/2B/P
25 Cayden Roberts P/2B
33 Clay Velazquez CF/P
44 Tyler Meyers 3B
86 Roger Carlson RF
Coaches: Ronnie Pillars, Danny Matznick, Brian Ashley, James Velazquez