Baseball: Neuqua Valley on a roll heading to playoffsNeuqua Valley pitcher, David Gerber pitched a shutout for a win over Bartlett on Wednesday, Apr. 18, 2012. | Donnell Collins~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: May 22, 2012 7:57PM
Last June 2, after seeing his team’s 25-win season end in its own sectional, Neuqua Valley coach Robin Renner put things in perspective.
“This is just my silly thinking: a 20-win season in basketball is really good, a 20-win season in baseball is maybe average or a little bit above,” Renner said after the eventual runner-up in Class 4A, Providence Catholic, eliminated his Wildcats from the postseason with a 5-2 defeat in the Class 4A Neuqua Valley Sectional semifinal. “But if you can get to 25, that’s a really good year. And if you can get a conference championship or a regional championship to go with that, I think that’s an exceptional year. I think they had an exceptional year.”
That setback to the Celtics set the stage for what would happen seven weeks later as the program made its second straight appearance in the IHSBCA Phil Lawler Summer Classic.
Claiming the program’s sixth regional crown last spring while recording the program’s seventh 25-win campaign and making another extended summer state tournament run instilled belief that 2012 could bring something special.
All Neuqua Valley has done for an encore this spring is set a program record for regular-season victories with 28. The Wildcats enter the Class 4A postseason on a 13-game winning streak and as the third seed in the Class 4A Romeoville Sectional. Neuqua Valley opens Wednesday at Bolingbrook against Hinsdale Central.
A victory might pit the Wildcats against sixth-seeded Naperville North on Saturday: the Huskies ended their season on a 16-2 tear.
“Well, they’re playing their best baseball right now and that’s what we wanted them to do and that’s what you try to get them to do,” Renner said of his team after they completed a doubleheader sweep of Waubonsie Valley on May 12. “They’re kind of right now, they’re clicking on all cylinders. But that doesn’t mean that something could certainly change in one game.
“What if (the second game of its doubleheader against Waubonsie Valley May 12) was a regional game? 1-0. Anything can happen, so we just go at them and do the best that we can every game.”
And Neuqua Valley has seen its share of special baseball throughout its 14-year history — winning the 2007 Class AA state title and finishing third in the first year of the four-class system in 2008.
Both of those teams finished their regular seasons with 27 victories and had long winning streaks, something they have in common with the 2012 Wildcats, who ran off a nine-game streak earlier this year as well, spanning March 31-April 16.
En route to winning the 2007 Class AA state title with a 5-1 victory over New Trier, the Wildcats ended the 2007 season on a 15-game winning streak.
A year later, they engineered a 17-game winning streak midway through the 2008 season, a season they capped by finishing third in Class 4A.
“Well these teams are so different. I don’t know,” Renner said about any comparisons between the 2012 Wildcats and the 2007 Class AA state title-winning team. “Really, it’s hard to say. I look back at (the 2007 team). Do I have a guy that’s gonna be pitching professional baseball (like Ian Krol, who’s in the Oakland organization) on this team? I don’t know. Geoff Rowan, he is a starting catcher and the best hitter at a Big Ten team in Northwestern. Those are some pretty good players.”
What these Wildcats have is good pitching.
Led by junior right-hander David Gerber’s seven victories, 10 different Wildcat pitchers have recorded at least one victory. Sporting a collective 2.00 ERA as a staff, the Wildcats have posted 12 shutouts.
“We’ve been playing great baseball all year and right now, our bats are just really hot. Well, except for (May 12 against Waubonsie Valley, which saw the Wildcats score four runs combined in two games),” said Illinois-bound senior right-hander Nick Blackburn, who is 6-3 to go along with a 1.90 ERA. “But I mean that’s why our pitching has been great all year.
“It’s been solid and when our hitting isn’t there, our pitching just always picks us up and then it’s vice-versa with (where) the hitting will pick up the pitching. But as long as we keep our bats going like we did against Plainfield North (in a 15-2 win on April 30) and like we have been, we should be great in the playoffs.”
Neuqua’s seventh regional crown would give the program its fourth 30-win season and leave it three victories shy of its season-long destination: Joliet.
“We all, at the beginning of the year, really wanted it and we had a few losses here and there, where it kind of opened our eyes and said (that) we really need to get this work in, get that work in,” Gerber said. “Now everything is kind of starting to piece together, so I mean, we all have high expectations. We’re all gonna try and go as far as we can and we’re really working to get to Joliet.”