Small adjustment in the cage. Big day at the plate.
Lincoln-Way East’s Kevin Duffin discovered he was flying open too soon and pulling off the ball during an extra batting practice session leading up to the Griffins’ semifinal baseball game in the Class 4A Providence Regional.
Duffin, a junior catcher, worked with East coaches Paul Babcock and Andy Paszko to correct the flaw, to stay closed a split second longer and follow through on his swing. And the results were stunning.
Duffin went 4-for-4 and spearheaded the Griffins’ 10-8 comeback victory over district rival Lincoln-Way Central Thursday afternoon at Tom Dedin Field in New Lenox. His two-run homer in the bottom of the third turned momentum—and the game—around after Central used a small-ball attack to build a 6-1 lead.
Duffin also had two doubles and a single. He missed hitting for the cycle by a whisker. He did not get credit for a triple—but did reach third on a throwing error after banging his second double of the game into left-center in the bottom of the sixth.
“Yeah, it’s a cycle in my book,” Duffin said.
All kidding aside, he said the key to the victory for Lincoln-Way East (21-12) was its collective mental approach.
“We just stayed positive,” Duffin said. “We know we can hit the ball. We practiced hitting for the past couple of days. We just wanted to stay positive. We knew we could come back and take that game.”
His two-run homer pumped up the Griffins in the dugout and ignited the comeback. And it was cause for one of those rare teaching moment kind of celebrations. You could almost here the East brain trust proclaiming, “See what happens when you play like you practice.”
“Our coaches have been really critiquing my swing the past couple of days, and it showed for today,” Duffin said. “Mainly, they were saying, ‘Follow through.’ On that fourth hit today, I didn’t follow through and I came up a little shy.”
The situation played out like this for Duffin.
“We were in the cage, and I just kept pulling out of my swing early,” he said. “Coach Babcock fixed that. And that’s what I focused on today. Coach Andy (Paszko) was also telling me that, ‘Stay closed.’ ”
The Griffins have a tomorrow to look forward to because of Duffin’s hard work. They will face top seed Providence at 11 a.m. Saturday in the regional championship game on the Celtics’ home field.
Duffin is up for the challenge.
“It’s going to be a good game,” he said. “They have a bunch of good hitters, and they can field the ball. That’s really all you need to win games.”
Babcock said East will need to show more against Providence than it did vs. Lincoln-Way Central to pull an upset of the Celtics.
“I’m proud of our bats,” Babcock said. “We had some good at-bats with two strikes. But that was ugly. That’s not winning baseball. I don’t mean to take anything away from winning the first game in the regional, but you can’t play like that if you want to advance. Simple as that. We got lucky.”