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Baseball: Reigning MCL champion Southland Vikings remain the hunted as they enter playoffs as the top seed

The SouthlVikings's shortstop Bobby Sheppard makes throw second base for force out against Joliet Admirals July 6 2014. | Allen

The Southland Vikings's shortstop Bobby Sheppard makes the throw to second base for the force out against the Joliet Admirals, July 6, 2014. | Allen Cunningham/For Sun-Times Media

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MCL Playoffs

FIRST ROUND

Southland vs. Lexington
(best-of-3)

Game 1: at Homewood-Flossmoor, 7 p.m. Tuesday

Game 2: at Lexington, 7 p.m. Wednesday

Game 3 at Homewood-Flossmoor, 7 p.m. Thursday-x

CHAMPIONSHIP

(Southland-Lexington winner vs. Northwest Indiana-DuPage County winner)

Game 1: Friday at top remaining seed

Game 2: Saturday at lower remaining seed

Game 3: Sunday at top remaining seed-x

x-if necessary

Updated: August 30, 2014 6:17AM



Four weeks into the season, the Southland Vikings were floundering.

Crazy June weather had wreaked havoc on the schedule, and a loaded batting order simply wasn’t producing, prompting manager Chris Cunningham to succinctly state, “We can’t hit” of his then-8-8 team.

That was then.

This is now.

The Vikings closed the regular season on a ridiculous 19-4 hot streak and head into the Midwest Collegiate League playoffs as the league’s top seed.

“I remember being furious saying, ‘We can’t hit,’ knowing deep down that these kids can swing it,” Cunningham said. “It was a matter of putting at-bats together, of taking your job, your craft a little more seriously. They clicked, and it took off. It’s been fun.”

Southland (27-12) will open a three-game series at 7 p.m. Tuesday vs. the Lexington Snipes (23-18) at Homewood-Flossmoor High School.

Southland is the defending league champion, but if Cunningham’s squad is to repeat, the route will be a vastly different one. In 2013, the Vikings swept through the playoffs as the No. 4 seed.

But being top seed this time around? And with home-field advantage throughout ...

“It’s definitely a confidence boost going into the playoffs knowing we won the regular season,” Southland’s Bobby Sheppard said. “We’re the team to beat. We’re trying to take two right away. We don’t want it to get to that third game.”

In the season series, Southland went 4-5 in nine games vs. the Snipes, including 1-4 on the road.

Mount Carmel alum Jeff Boehm, now at UIC, knows with a three-game series anything can happen and do so quickly. In other words, the Vikings cannot fall behind and count on one of their offensive comebacks home or away.

Sunday, for example, Southland fell behind 11-2 against the Chicago Zephyrs before mounting a huge comeback, scoring 13 runs in the fifth inning en route to a 17-15 win.

“We started off slow, and we can’t do that Tuesday,” Boehm said. “It’s very important to come out every inning and not just finish at the end of the game like we did (Sunday).”

Four wins away from another title, Cunningham knows the Vikings are ready.

“These guys are winners,” Cunningham said. “They’re not here for second place. We won it last year, and we’re expecting to win. That’s got to be your mindset as a winner, as an athlete — a proud athlete, I would hope.”



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