Goss: Joliet Junior College seeks World Series berth
May 10, 2012 6:46PM
Alex Parks | Supplied photo
Updated: June 12, 2012 8:12AM
The biggest lightweight carries the most thunderous bat.
Freshman second baseman Luke Andrade (Lincoln-Way West) is at or near the top of virtually every offensive category for the Joliet Junior College baseball team, which hosts Miwaukee Area Tech at 3 p.m. today in the opening game of the best-of-3 Region IV Championship Series.
Andrade’s .383 batting average is second on the team behind Trey Russell’s .391. He is tied for the team lead with Nick Gould (Providence) in home runs with five, leads in RBI with 60 and is second in doubles (16) and triples (4). His .573 slugging percentage and 1.009 OPS are team bests.
Then you check the Wolves’ roster, and sure enough, no one is as slight as the 5-foot-11, 160-pound Andrade.
Perhaps he symbolizes what has gone on with the Wolves (31-28). Things have not always progressed the way you might have expected this season, yet there is indication they are exactly where they want to be, playing their best at the right time with a trip to the NJCAA Division III World Series at Tyler, Texas, on the line this weekend.
Last weekend, the Wolves won three straight games to capture the Region IV Sectional. They have won five of their last six overall, beginning with a doubleheader sweep of Milwaukee Tech 10-2 and 6-4 on April 28. JJC also endured a stretch in April where it lost six straight and eight of nine, the only victory in the skid a 12-4 win over Harper on April 10 that was No. 900 in coach Wayne King’s illustrious career.
“We’re doing OK. It’s just been an up-and-down year,” King said. “We’ve been inconsistent in every phase of the game.”
“I think we’re a lot like my favorite team, the St. Louis Cardinals,” Andrade said. “We’re playing hard and playing better at the right time, so let’s just let it ride.”
Andrade said coaching has been a factor in his gaudy offensive numbers.
“I worked hard with Tyler Thompson, our hitting coach,” he said. “He really helped me.
“And I’m here in the first place because of coach King. He is one of the best coaches I have ever played for. What he has taught me in an eight-month period is incredible.”
Left-handed-hitting third baseman Dakota Brown (Minooka), also a freshman, is another key cog in the JJC offense. He’s overcome a shoulder injury and is hitting .337 with two homers and 33 RBI.
“I’m OK now,” he said. “I’m feeling good at the plate. I’m seeing the ball and hitting it to all fields.”
Brown said there is no reason what happened last weekend can’t carry over for the Wolves.
“It all has come together at the right time,” he said. “We hit well, played defense and the pitching was good. So we looked good overall. We absolutely got all the parts together last weekend.”
If it does continue, a trip to Texas awaits.
“When you come here you kind of expect to go (to the World Series),” Brown said. “Look at all those banners (on the outfield fence at Wayne L. King Jr. Field). We could be the next team to go.”
The Wolves have made 10 trips to the World Series under King and won national championships in 1994 and 2008.
King’s pitching alignment for the weekend calls for sophomore left-hander Jared Steck to open Friday’s game, followed by sophomore right-hander Trevor Vermillion (Joliet Township) in Saturday’s noon game at Milwaukee. If Game 3 is necessary, sophomore right-hander Alex Parks (Plainfield Central) will get the call.
“Jared pitches well here, and Alex enjoys pitching here,” King said. “Trevor doesn’t seem to care where he pitches.”
Parks is 4-2, and his 2.88 ERA is best on the staff. He had shoulder surgery in February 2010 and sat out that season.
“I was told there was a chance I wouldn’t be able to come back, and I did not want to let that happen,” said Parks, who features a splitter as his out pitch. “I did a lot of therapy on my own.”
Steck is 4-1 with a 4.21 ERA and Vermillion is 6-4 with a 3.99 ERA. Vermillion has five complete games on his ledger, Steck and Parks three each.
Despite the roller coaster this season has been, there are reasons to believe the Wolves will play in their second home at Tyler, Texas, where associate head coach Gregg Braun said World Series fans enjoy rooting for “the purple team.”