Two games are all that separate Lincoln and Notre Dame from berths in next week's state baseball tournament.
The first obstacle for both the Cougars and the Irish are familiar ones.
Class AA No. 3 Lincoln (23-3) takes on Big 10 rival Grafton (7-9) in the Region II semifinal at 6:30 p.m. at Frank Loria Memorial Field.
Notre Dame (22-7), ranked No. 8 in the most recent baseball poll, faces Clay-Battelle in the Class A Region II semifinal. First pitch is 6:30 p.m. at South Harrison High School.
Lincoln and Notre Dame both swept the regular season series. The Cougars held on for a 4-1 victory over Todd Duryea and the Bearcats in the first meeting, while winning the final game, 13-3.
"It always helps because you're going to pick up on some tendencies and see the other team's pitching," Lincoln coach Tom Hunter said. "Of course, it's the same for them, too.
"They're a scrappy bunch. They'll come out to play, and this is the series where there's no tomorrow."
The Irish, likewise, had distinctively different victories against the Cee-Bees. After a 7-3 victory over Clay-Battelle in just its second game of the season, Notre Dame erupted for an 11-run first inning in an 18-2 win over the Cee-Bees.
The Bearcats are likely to send Duryea, a left-hander to the mound. Senior Wes Osbourn pitched Saturday's 9-6 victory over Bridgeport in the sectional championship and would be coming off just two days rest. Senior fireballer Levi Maxwell is 1-1 in this postseason with 11 strikeouts in 10 innings, while Seth Williams was 5-0 during the regular season but did not start a game during sectional play.
Grafton is coming off a 9-3 victory over Lewis County. Senior Josh Trickett led the Bearcats during the regular season with a .457 average. Duryea followed at .364, and teammate Chad Chambers batted .342.
"I would imagine we'll see Duryea," Hunter said. "He throws a lot of offspeed stuff and tries to keep you off balance.
"I'm not sure who we'll throw yet. We just have to put our head on the ball and make contact."
The Cougars counter with what is likely the most feared lineup in the Big 10. Lincoln led the conference in nearly every major offensive category.
The postseason has been no different.
Kyle Hurst and Levi Maxwell are each hitting .416. Osbourn drove in seven runs, while Jason Richardson is batting .400 with six RBIs, and Eric Hardesty is hitting .400. In four postseason games, the Cougars have belted eight home runs.
Notre Dame took care of its section in three games by a combined score of 25-4 in which Irish pitching allowed just 12 hits while fanning 43 batters. No team had more than four hits in any of the three games.
Notre Dame coach Mark Starkey will likely pitch either Jon Thomas (4-1, 69 SOs) or Justin Starkey (7-0, 66 SOs).
Starkey and junior Trey Simmerman each hit .333 during the sectional. Simmerman and teammate Vic Shaffer each drove in three runs, while Matt Perkins hit .300, and catcher Jamie Stanton batted .375 (3-for-8).
Sports writer Mike Nutter can be reached at 626-1444 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org