Disabato: St. Laurence’s strength turns into its weakness
Pat Disabato firstname.lastname@example.org | (708) 802-8837 May 30, 2012 10:34PM
Zack Lewis, of St. Laurence, delivers a pitch Wednesday against Lyons during the teams' Class 4A Mount Carmel Sectional semifinal. | Richard A. Chapman~Sun-Times
“It’s so tough to get through the playoffs. You have to play exceptionally well. There are no gimme games at this stage. There’s a little luck involved, too, with who you run into. Most of the time, good pitching is going to get it done. We didn’t pitch very good today.”
Pete Lotus, St. Laurence coach
Updated: July 6, 2012 9:03AM
If St. Laurence was going to meet preseason expectations and make a storied run to the Class 4A state finals in Joliet, its vaunted pitching staff would have to carry it there.
That was no secret.
There was no way St. Laurence could rely on its offense, which proved too inconsistent during a 30-7-1 season, to carry the Vikings to the promised land.
No one in the area, arguably the state, matched the Vikings’ arsenal of power pitchers: Kevin Smith, Nick Altobella, Zack Lewis, Brad Wood and Mike Kornacker.
But what good is an 88 mph fastball if it’s not in the strike zone?
That was the problem for St. Laurence, which issued seven hits and 11 walks Wednesday to Lyons in a disappointing 8-3 Class 4A Mount Carmel Sectional semifinal loss.
Four Vikings combined to throw a whopping 164 pitches.
“Most of the season our pitching carried us,” St. Laurence coach Pete Lotus said. “But you can’t walk that many guys against a team as good as Lyons.”
News flash: You can’t walk that many guys against any team and expect to win.
The Vikings trailed throughout Wednesday’s game. Their best chance to grab the lead came in the third, when Smith batted with the bases loaded and two outs. The junior, however, grounded out to the pitcher, ending the inning with the Vikings trailing 2-1.
The wheels fell off from there.
“We had a chance when it was 2-1,” Lotus said. “Their pitcher made a nice play.”
St. Laurence was attempting to win the third sectional title in the program’s history.
It will have to settle for a fourth regional title in seven years under Lotus, who rapidly is realizing how difficult it is to orchestrate a state finals run.
Five straight wins doesn’t sound like much of a task. In the playoffs, it’s a monumental accomplishment.
The numbers don’t lie. The Southland, despite a plethora of talent, hasn’t won a state championship since 2005 (Lockport). Think of all the great teams the area has developed. Heck, perennial powers Andrew and Sandburg have just one state baseball championship plaque in their trophy case.
Providence boasts nearly two dozen Division I players the past two seasons. Yet, it has zero state titles to show for it.
Marist has one D-I player on its roster, Mike Hearne — and he and the RedHawks took down the mighty Celtics 9-5 on Wednesday.
“It’s so tough to get through the playoffs,” Lotus said. “You have to play exceptionally well. There are no gimme games at this stage. There’s a little luck involved, too, with who you run into. Most of the time, good pitching is going to get it done. We didn’t pitch very good today.”
The good news for St. Laurence is it figures to return a load of talent next season.
I know it’s a refrain Vikings fans are growing tired of hearing. But with Smith, Lewis, Wood and Kornacker back on the mound, the staff is rock-solid. Each is a key cog in the lineup, too, along with catcher T.J. Marik.
No doubt, there are holes to fill. Lotus, though, has the program in position to sustain success.
“We’re losing some great seniors,” Lotus said. “I can’t say enough of what they accomplished. It’s going to be tough to replace those guys.”
Seniors such as Altobella, Dan Cronin, Brandon Mallder, Mike Solofra and Joel Rotkvich sorely will be missed.
Now it’s up to either St. Rita or Mount Carmel, who square off today in the other semifinal, to take down Lyons, the defending Class 4A champion.
The Lions may not boast a gaudy record — 24-12-1 — but they are dangerous. Their first four hitters — Evan Booth, Steve Heilenbach, Keith Lehmann and Matt Robare — can swing the bat. Booth and Heilenbach hit monster home runs Wednesday. Lehmann is expected to get the call on the mound Saturday.
Who will be Lyons’ opponent?
I’m sticking with my original pick of Mount Carmel.
But I wouldn’t discount St. Rita. On that note, wouldn’t it be something if the Mustangs, despite the loss of their top two pitchers, were the last team standing from the Catholic League Blue.