According to the IHSA website, 146 teams competed in the class 4A level in baseball this season, however only four remain heading into the state series this weekend at Silver Cross Field in Joliet. The Grant Bulldogs, Lyons Lions, Oak Park-River Forest Huskies and Minooka Indians all clinched spots into the final four Monday after super-sectional wins, earning them the chance to play for a state title this weekend in Joliet.
The first match-up of the evening will be between Grant and Oak Park-River Forest at 3 p.m. Grant comes into the game with a record of 25-11, and is currently on a nine-game winning streak dating back to the regular season. They face a Huskies team that comes in with the best record on any team at 28-9-1. Oak Park lost in the sectionals last season, so it looks to redeem themselves and advance to a second title game in four years.
The second game of the evening, however, will garner the most attention locally, as Minooka will take on the Lyons Lions — the defending 4A state champions.The Indians are on somewhat of a magical run this postseason, as they took down Moline, O’Fallon, and Naperville Central within a six day period to reach the state semifinals. Each of those teams had competed in the state series before.
“Nothing really compares to the run we’re on right now,” third baseman Joe Carnagio said. “Our hard work is finally paying off now. We’re as hot as we can get. We’re playing our best baseball right now. We just have to stick to our game and good things will happen.”
Minooka faces its toughest foe to date on Friday, as they battle Lyons in the 5 p.m. game at Silver Cross Field. Experience is on the side of the Lions, who defeated Providence Catholic 8-3 last year to win the class 4A state title. This will be the fourth time Lyons head coach George Ushela will make an appearance at the state series, including two titles in 2003 and 2011.
“You realize once you get to this point that every game is going to be against a good team,” Minooka head coach Jeff Petrovic said. “Lyons has had a habit of making it to this point all the time now. They seem to be in this position all of the time.”
Although the Indians don’t have as much experience as Lyons, Minooka is now slowly building itself up as a force to be reckoned with come playoff time.
“What I really like is that I’ve been here at Minooka for fifteen years, and I’ve slowly seen us starting to position ourselves to get to this point of the season,” Petrovic said. “I feel like that this isn’t a shocker anymore and that this is what we expect. The more you put yourself in this position, the more likely you are to succeed.”
One positive going the Indians way is that they are playing in almost a home-field environment at Silver Cross Field. Since they’re so close, they won’t have to leave Minooka until 3:30, getting over to the field by four for the five p.m. game. It also helps that the Indians have also played once at Silver Cross Field this season, winning the WJOL tournament there in April. With what could be like a home-field advantage for Minooka, senior Josh Jimenez tries to keep it all in perspective.
“I don’t think it’s much of an advantage because they (Lyons) won state in that building last year, so I’m pretty sure they know how to play there as well,” he said.
Some of Jimenez’s other teammates tend to agree with him as well.
“The stadium is huge, so there’s no real advantage to anyone who plays in it,”shortstop Tyler Thorson said. “I mean if there’s a homerun hit, it’s going to have to be a bomb.”
Despite some guys thinking it won’t be so much of an advantage playing close to home,Carnagio thinks it can have a positive effect seeing all the extra people out in the stands.
“It’s awesome that we’re playing in Joliet because it’s only 20 minutes away, which is much closer than U-of-I (where they played the super-sectional),” he said. “We had a pretty good turnout down there, so I’m excited to see how many people show up and how crazy the atmosphere is.”
Petrovic said it best regarding the fan support based on where they play.
“Being close to home, getting the support we have will be great,” he said. “But the thing I love about our community is that we could be playing in Alaska and they’d show up. We get great support everywhere we go.”
No matter where the Indians are playing this weekend, the team feels that they have a good shot of winning the whole thing and bringing Minooka its first state baseball title.
"We’re just going to go out there and play with heart,” Jimenez said. “I don’t see us losing. We have momentum so hopefully we can go out there and win.”
"In the beginning of the season, we were going to be happy with a regional title,”Thorson added. “We saw a few things work out and now we’re playing some great baseball. Nobody expects to lose and nobody would rather be in another dugout.”