Third time no charm
Vikings upended by revenge-minded Caravan
Third time a charm? Not for St. Laurence.
With two victories already collected against Mt. Carmel this spring, the Vikings appeared to have a psychological edge over the Caravan when the two Chicago Catholic League rivals renewed acquaintances in last Thursday’s Class 4A Reavis Sectional semifinal. But coach Pete Lotus suspected the 16-5 and 7-3 conquests his squad recorded earlier would mean little.
“It’s tough to beat anybody three times, especially a good team like that,” he said.
Lotus’ words proved prophetic. Behind pitcher Nelson Munoz, Mt. Carmel squeezed out a 3-2 win that kept its hopes for a state-championship repeat intact for a couple more days and halted St. Laurence’s best campaign ever under Lotus.
“It’s hard to think like that right now,” Lotus said, when complimented for the Vikings’ 2014 season as a whole.
After a few moments of consideration, though, he felt differently.
“It’s easy to sit there and look at the last game and be disappointed, but I’m very proud [of our guys],” Lotus said. “They won a lot of games and accomplished a lot. It’s tough to see those guys go.”
One of those St. Laurence players who’s moving on, Northern Illinois University-bound Brad Wood, dueled Munoz on even terms — at least after the first couple innings. The Caravan did all of their scoring in those early at-bats, after which they were set down 16 times in succession by Wood.
However, Munoz, who was seeing only his second action since being injured in an automobile accident in early May, was virtually bulletproof. Although the Vikings (32-6) threatened a few times, they didn’t break through until the fifth inning — and even that uprising was gummed up by a double play.
Mt. Carmel’s defense pulled off two twin killings, threw out two St. Laurence runners at the plate and featured shortstop Jeremy Houston’s leaping grab of Mike Kornacker’s hard-hit liner. The latter occurred in the opening stanza and quieted a budding rally.
“It’s very, very frustrating,” Lotus said. “We had opportunities, but we didn’t do the things we’ve done all year. It would have been big for us to respond with even one run in the first.
“I really feel we could beat anybody with Brad or Mike as our pitchers, but we couldn’t get the big hit with guys on base — in games that are single elimination, that’ll cost you. Most of the year, we’ve done a good job of coming through in those situations and scoring some runs.”
Houston also delivered offensively as he doubled in the Caravan’s first run and then tallied their second when he raced home on Scott Kapers’ two-out single. Mt. Carmel scored again in the second on a combination of Greg Ploszaj’s double, Nick Wheeler’s sacrifice and Ako Thomas’ groundout.
The Caravan (31-8) did not hit safely after the second inning. Wood finished with a five-hitter and four strikeouts.
As for Munoz, he survived some late threats, including in the sixth when St. Laurence put two men aboard with no one out before coming away empty. Munoz scattered seven hits, two of which — singles by Kornacker and Mike Miller — accounted for the Vikings’ production.
“He was definitely a guy we could have hit,” Lotus said of Munoz. “We’ve seen the equivalent, but he threw strikes and made the pitches he had to. It comes down to who makes plays and gets the timely hits.”
Mt. Carmel 210 000 0 — 3
St. Laurence 000 020 0 — 2
Mt. Carmel 2B: Houston, Ploszaj. RBI: Houston, Kapers, Thomas. WP: Munoz.
St. Laurence RBI: Kornacker, Miller. LP: Wood (7-2).