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Baseball: Southland Vikings put it all together for amazing MCL title run

Bobby Sheppard SouthlVikings scores an Eric Phillis single for MCL South All-Stars for Midwest Collegiate League All-Star game Oil City

Bobby Sheppard, of the Southland Vikings, scores on an Eric Phillis single for the MCL South All-Stars for the Midwest Collegiate League All-Star game at Oil City Stadium, Wednesday, July 9th, 2014, in Whiting | Gary Middendorf/for Sun-Times Media

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VIKINGS 2014 STATS LEADERS

HITS

Bobby Sheppard 60

Jeff Boehm 57

Brandon Mallder 50

Stefano Belmonte 48

Chase Fieldhouse 43

BATTING AVERAGE

Jerry Houston .434 (36-for-83)

Sheppard .429 (60-for-140)

Fieldhouse .371 (43-for-116)

Boehm .358 (57-for-159)

Mallder .338 (50-for-148)

HOME RUNS

Dan Potempa 7

Sheppard 6

Boehm 5

Belmonte 4

Fieldhouse 4

RBI

Belmonte 37

Sheppard 37

Boehm 32

Potempa 25

Steve Letz 22

RUNS

Mallder 37

Sheppard 35

Boehm 33

Potempa 31

Fieldhouse 29

Chris Sujka 29

PITCHING WINS

Evan Nietfeldt 5

Brandon White 5

Kevin Hallberg 4

Tyler House 3

Dan Wetzel 3

ERA (Minimum 10 innings)

Mike Poulos 2.09

House 2.41

Anthony Spangler 2.53

White 3.19

STRIKEOUTS

Nietfeldt 41

Wetzel 34

House 33

White 32

Hallberg 25

Updated: September 6, 2014 6:24AM



As his players were passing around the Midwest Collegiate League Championship trophy, Southland manager Chris Cunningham addressed them along the third-base line.

“Hold up, guys, I’m calling my first team meeting of the year.”

First team meeting? But wasn’t the season over?

That was the makeup of the team. No big egos. Just a bunch of guys who loved playing baseball together.

“We just had a group of guys who clicked and worked really well together,” Southland’s Stefano Belmonte said. “We had the same mentality, played fundamentally sound, and knew what we had to do. We were all good buddies, and it all flowed.”

Southland won the MCL title with a two-game sweep of DuPage County, defeating the Hounds 12-3 Saturday at Benedictine in Lisle and capping a 4-0 run through the playoffs.

The Vikings (31-12) became the league’s first back-to-back champions. Teammates Bobby Sheppard and Jeff Boehm were named league co-MVPs.

The league’s top-hitting team, the Vikings truly started hitting their stride in late June and never stopped. It started at the top with Cunningham, a South Suburban product and assistant coach, pushing the right buttons.

His method? Rip the team.

“Cunningham sparked us a little bit, said some things that got under our skins; said, ‘We’re good on paper, but we can’t show it,’ ” the Vikings’ Dan Potempa said. “He was a huge impact on us, how we hit and play the game.”

Southland played at a ridiculous level over the last month of the season, finishing on an astounding 23-4 spurt. Leading the charge was an offense that refused to go quietly, to the point eight- and nine-run innings almost were commonplace.

In four playoff games, the Vikings scored 46 runs.

“We looked at the lineup one time and said, ‘Wow, look at this,’ ” Sheppard said. “It was incredible. We kept going with it and finally everything started clicking.”

While the offense clicked on all cylinders, the pitching staff quietly went about its business. Brandon White, Tyler House, Dan Wetzel, Evan Nietfeldt and Kevin Hallberg carried the load as starters, with closer Anthony Spangler anchoring the bullpen.

“It is really easy pitching with these hitters behind you,” Wetzel said. “You can count on them at any point. Pitching to contact was huge, and our mentality was we got our work done before the game.”

A run of injuries and several players leaving the team left the Vikings with just nine healthy pitchers for most of a month. That was no problem for this staff.

“Every start was a quality start up and down the line,” Cunningham said. “From the bullpen to the starters, it was just throwing strikes, pound the zone and let our guys make plays.”

It was a simple formula the Vikings rode right to the league title.



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