Goss: Joliet Catholic baseball team riding high at perfect time
By Dick Goss email@example.com June 5, 2013 2:00PM
Joliet Catholic's Cal Placher. | Vincent D. Johnson~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 7, 2013 12:16PM
It almost feels like yesterday.
“I remember being in eighth grade four years ago and sitting at Silver Cross Field watching Joliet Catholic win the state championship game,” Hilltoppers senior shortstop Chris Tschida said after Monday’s 5-3 victory over Harlan in the Class 3A Crestwood Supersectional. “I knew we could get there, too.”
Coach Jared Voss and his staff are accustomed to the short trip to downtown Joliet for the state finals, having finished third in 2008, first in ’09 and fourth in ’10. Voss also had teams finish second in 2000 and ’04, when the tournament was played at Geneva.
For the players, it will be as a new experience when they meet Mt. Vernon at noon Friday in the semifinals, although Tschida was in uniform as a freshman for the fourth-place finish in 2010.
These Hilltoppers (23-14) have experienced an array of ups and downs beginning last spring and summer. With much the same cast, they were blanked 3-0 by Lincoln-Way West freshman Steve Skolarz in the 2012 sectional semifinals. They rebounded to finish second in the summer state tournament.
Early this season, they lost ace left-hander Matt Testa to an elbow injury. They never have completely shed the injury bug, even now, heading into the state tournament. They finished an uncharacteristic 8-8 in the East Suburban Catholic Conference.
But they also won the prestigious second annual Steven Bajenski Memorial Tournament, shutting out St. Rita 1-0 and Mount Carmel 3-0 on the final weekend to get that accomplished. The injuries — although never a positive — have helped develop depth.
“Going off last summer, we’ve beaten good teams along the way,” Voss said. “We knew we had quality arms coming into the season, and we were pretty optimistic because of that pitching.”
Losing Testa was a blow. However, Sam Couch, Cal Placher, Nick Dalesandro and Kyle Polaski have filled the void on the mound.
Couch, who likely will start Friday, is on a ridiculous roll, having blanked St. Rita, Lemont and Evergreen Park in his last three starts.
Once the Hilltoppers began to hit — their team average was around .230 a few weeks into the season — they reclaimed their rightful position among the state’s best.
“When we were going bad, I had no doubts,” said catcher Alex Voitik, a three-year varsity regular along with Tschida and first baseman Ryan Peter. “I had confidence in our guys. When we lost Testa, I didn’t know what to think of that. But here we are.”
Voss said although early season weather is the same for everyone, it did seem to affect the Hilltoppers.
“The big thing offensively was getting the kids not to press,” he said. “I think the first time we got on the field was our first game. We didn’t even have an intrasquad game until three weeks into games. You can only hit so many Wiffle balls.
“A big part of our resurgence was when Chris started hitting, and then others did, too.”
Tschida has raised his average to .392. After a 4-for-28 start, he is hitting .486 in his last 74 official at-bats and has 20 extra-base hits.
The offensive hero against Harlan was outfielder/designated hitter John Kalisik. In those early games when Joliet Catholic’s offense was struggling, Kalisik usually was on the bench. But he kept working, eventually getting his chance, and he contributes regularly now.
“Injuries killed us this year, but they also might have made us stronger,” Tschida said. “Kalisik wasn’t an everyday starter, but he’s been awesome.”
“John Kalisik is one of my favorites,” Voitik said. “He wasn’t playing regularly and he really turned it up in practice. I can’t believe how great he has been playing.”
Added Voss: “Injuries have hurt us, but some of our injured guys are starting to come back. (Infielder) Rylan Bannon broke a bone in his thumb but is back. Zach Jackovich is back and gives us more options in the outfield and on the mound. (Third baseman) John Trotto got a small fracture in his nose at practice a few days ago but he’ll be ready this weekend.”
It matters not that Joliet Catholic has lost 14 games. The Hilltoppers have faced many of the state’s best 4A teams, have beaten some and will be ready this weekend for the best Mt. Vernon and either Wheaton St. Francis or Grayslake Central have to offer. Strangely, Mt. Vernon (31-8-1) is the only one of the eight semifinalists in 3A and 4A that won its conference championship.
You never know about baseball, do you? But as long as you asked, yes, Joliet Catholic is my pick to win 3A.