Akouris: Joliet Junior College preps for national baseball title defense
By Tina Akouris email@example.com March 19, 2013 8:34PM
Joliet Junior College baseball players Cody Krilich and Dominic Olszta. | Matt Marton~Sun-Times Media
Updated: April 21, 2013 6:13AM
Practicing baseball indoors can get boring.
But it’s what the Joliet Junior College Wolves have had to do with this annoying Midwestern weather.
March 13 was just the second day the Wolves were able to practice outside and get away from the Bo Jackson Dome in Lockport. Even though the field was muddy, coach Wayne King’s men got some work in, hoping they’d get in a season opener on Friday against Illinois Valley College in Joliet. Originally, King wanted to play Illinois Valley on Thursday, but as always is the case here weather got in the way. The Wolves were able to get that game in Friday, beating Illinois Valley 12-1.
The Wolves were supposed to open the season March 1 in St. Louis, but a major snowstorm canceled that trip.
“We actually make jokes about it,” said center fielder Cody Krilich, a T.F. South product. “When we came to school with six inches of snow on the ground, we’re like, ‘Baseball weather, boys. Let’s go!’ ”
King was a little more blunt.
“We need to play now,” he said.
King’s players are trying to get as much outdoor practice time in as they can as they defend their NJCAA Division III national championship. The Wolves won their last nine of 10 games en route to their third national title last year in Tyler, Texas.
A matter of bonding
Among the six notables returning for King and his staff are Krilich; right fielder Dominic Olszta, a Providence graduate; Lincoln-Way West product and second baseman Luke Andrade, the 2012 NJCAA Division III Player of the Year; catcher Casey Papp (Providence), and pitchers Austin Vazquez (Providence) and Colin Hart (Lockport).
Andrade said he thinks there are two ways the season will go for the Wolves, the No. 1-ranked Division III team in the preseason poll.
“It can go either way: We can bond as a team, or we will have work to do,” Andrade said. “We had good team chemistry (in 2012) and we have that again this year. Last year we had a lot more sophomores. We have 19 freshmen, and last year we had 10. It was easier last year to learn from them.”
The biggest difference this year is the Wolves’ youth and their thin pitching staff. King and Krilich agree that — at least the pitching — is their biggest worry.
“We’re a lot younger than last year, but one thing we do have this year is a lot of team speed and we’ll be able to make a big mess on the bases and produce a lot of runs,” Krilich said. “Right now our pitching has fallen off a little bit. We’re going to need the run production.”
A trip to Nashville, Tenn., is the highlight of the schedule for most of the Wolves. The southern swing gives the Wolves a chance to face competition from southern schools that are able to play baseball nearly year-round.
King likes the trip, not just for the opportunity to go somewhere warmer, but because his group of players can bond.
“The best part of the trip is for four or five or six days we are all together and, after spending some time with each other, it’s a bonding thing and becoming more of a team,” King said. “We are going to be playing Division I junior colleges, and we are Division III and they’ve got 25 games in already and we may have three or four.
“We already know we are going to lose more than we’re going to win down there, and that’s fine. We want to make steps forward and not go backward.”
Writing their own story
Talk of winning the national title is over. It isn’t brought up by King or anyone else.
There isn’t any talk of pressure, either.
“If I put that extra pressure on myself and the other guys, it’s just not going to happen,” Andrade said. “You have to go in there with a clear mind and play our type of baseball and things will fall as they may.”
There also isn’t a discussion of how the 2012 season ended.
The late surge propelled the Wolves to the national title. It may not have been the way King and his players wanted to win, but at least they were able to string together a bunch of wins at the right time.
Krilich, for one, doesn’t think that “The Surge” made the Wolves stronger or gave them more confidence. If anything, the struggles early in the season — nervousness among young players, for one — made them mentally stronger.
And Olszta is expecting this team to make its fair share of mistakes early on, but thinks the Wolves can right the ship when it counts.
“We want to be consistent but last year we peaked at the right time,” Olszta said. “We’re going to make mistakes during the season but we can’t do that during the playoffs.”