Goss: Team comes first for Minooka
June 7, 2012 5:20PM
Senior Tyler Thorson and his Minooka teammates take on Lyons on Friday in the Class 4A state semifinals at Silver Cross Field in Joliet. | File photo
Updated: July 9, 2012 6:12AM
Baseball analysts and coaches often discuss the value of being strong up the middle.
If Minooka, which meets defending state champion Lyons at 5 p.m. Friday in the Class 4A semifinals at Silver Cross Field, is destined to win its first state baseball title, the kids up the middle will be major factors.
The two starting pitchers for the Indians this weekend will be left-hander Josh Jimenez and right-hander Kevin Ruff, in either order. The catcher is TJ Condon. Tyler Thorson plays shortstop, Nick Fleischauer second base and leadoff man Alex Bebar patrols center field.
All are seniors, as are right fielder Carson Neushwander and left fielder Nick White.
“Nine seniors on our roster, and all of them are starters,” Indians coach Jeff Petrovic noted. “Seven position players and two pitchers.”
Third baseman Joe Carnagio and first baseman Max Brozovich are the two junior regulars, with sophomore right-hander Mitch Vogrin a key out of the bullpen.
“We don’t have anybody who is going to hoist you up and carry you on their back,” Petrovic said. “But these kids have a ton of heart and play with a lot of guts. We have more of a team effort than any team I have ever coached. This is a great team atmosphere.”
Citing a possible reason the Indians (27-13) are in contention for a state championship, Thorson said, “Most of us have played together since freshman year. Nick (Fleischauer) and I have been starting together up the middle for a long time.
“Nobody really knew what TJ (Condon) was going to do behind the plate this year, and he’s done a great job back there. And then with Max (Brozovich) and Joe (Carnagio), it’s like having two more seniors. They play like seniors.”
We got a good look at what Carnagio and Brozovich can do in the athletic arena in the fall, when they were keys to Minooka’s football team. Carnagio played quarterback and Brozovich was the deep threat at wide receiver.
Meanwhile, Petrovic and his staff ran their annual youth baseball camp this week, and many of his players were there beginning at 8 a.m. daily to help out.
“Our guys love to give back to our program,” Petrovic said. “You can tell a lot about these guys when you see how they treat the young kids.
“Carson (Neushwander) told me, ‘I remember when I was here as a kid and the varsity kids took care of us.’ ”
Minooka finished second in the Southwest Prairie Conference behind Plainfield North, which swept a three-game series from the Indians and won the title for a fourth straight year. The Indians had an earlier three-game losing streak and dropped two of their last three to finish the regular season.
However, they have outscored their five opponents 24-7 in the postseason and have made one error total in those five victories. Not only are they playing well, but there’s the Silver Cross Field factor to consider. The Indians won the WJOL Tournament there early in the season, beating Lemont 9-5 in the title game, and the nearness of their community should allow their fans to show up in droves.
“Playing there is kind of like a homefield advantage to us,” said Fleischauer, who will continue his career with Bebar and Condon at Joliet Junior College, with Thorson possibly joining them as well.
“We’re playing our best when we need to right now,” Thorson said. “Everyone is stepping up as a team. I would not want to be playing us right now. I really think we can win it.”
That’s a theme that has permeated the Minooka camp. The Indians, to a player, believe they can complete the job this weekend.
Of course, it has to start with good pitching, and the defense must continue responding behind those pitchers. Based on what we have seen so far in the postseason and the attitude the Indians are riding, they are prepared to take their best shot.
“Carson (Neushwander) made a comment about how great it is to be playing this far, how special everything is and how you do not realize how good it is until you get there,” Petrovic said. “It shows the value of working hard.
“When nobody expects much from you, those are the ones that are really, really rewarding.”