McHenry County College baseball coach Jared Wacker says he is not superstitious by nature, but he could not help himself.
On every recent game day, Wacker made certain he stopped by Einstein Bagels on his way to school.
Scots assistant coach Tom Carle also was one to stick with familiar ways and would not shave his beard, even after players started calling him Santa Claus for his bushy facial hair.
A few MCC players who usually shave their heads put their clippers away because, to paraphrase Crash Davis in “Bull Durham,” you have to respect a streak.
Athletes in general, and baseball players in particular, can be quirky when it comes to routines during a hot streak, whether it’s wearing the same clothes under a uniform, eating the same food, listening to a certain song or driving the same route to school (like through the Einstein parking lot).
So the Scots, who reeled off 16 consecutive victories, were adhering to the time-honored tradition of not changing anything. The string was halted Tuesday with a 10-3 loss to Oakton Community College in the second end of a doubleheader. MCC, which won the first game Tuesday, is 19-4 overall and 7-1 to lead the Illinois Skyway Collegiate Conference race.
The Scots’ ride started March 16 in Canton with a 4-2 victory against Spoon River Community College. Sophomore Nick Kostalek (5-0), a Huntley graduate, picked up four wins during the streak, including bookend victories No. 1 and 16.
“I didn’t start thinking about it much until guys from last year’s team started texting me,” Kostalek said. “Last week, after 10 wins, other guys were starting to talk about it. It’s kind of nice when guys who played last year are congratulating us on that.”
Last season, the Scots were 35-20 and went through a stretch where they won 18 of 20 games. MCC had winning streaks of eight and nine games in 2012. The players and coaches tried to downplay the run, but it still was on their minds away from the field.
“You see the Blackhawks’ streak and the (Miami) Heat’s streak and see how they handled it,” said Scots third baseman Nick Richter, a Cary-Grove grad. “We kind of rode it like we knew it after the first 10 wins. People started paying more attention to it. Once we started a game, it was all, ‘Win one inning at a time.’ At the end of it, coach talked about it a lot for the first time.”
Wacker said his players thrived on any pressure against losing.
“When you get to 11 or 12 it can almost be a negative thing,” Wacker said. “This group embraced it and nobody on the pitching staff wanted to be the guy that ended up losing the streak. It made them focus even more on at-bats and pitches. Their focus has been outstanding.”
On days when the pitching was not as solid, MCC hit its way to wins. When the hitting did not produce, the pitching and fielding made the difference.
“One of the big things was the way we [overcame[ mistakes,” Wacker said. “We would minimize a leadoff walk [allowed] or letting a couple guys on base. We were able to pitch to the double play a little bit. It was a matter of picking up teammates and finding a way to win.”
After a few wins, the Scots believed something favorable was going to happen.
“Every game we just thought we weren’t going to lose,” Richter said.
Kostalek said there was a good reason the team did not mention the streak more.
“There wasn’t much talk from our whole team because we have the expectation that we should be winning each game,” Kostalek said.