Baseball: Minooka ready for state semifinalsMinooka’s pitcher Josh Jimenez delivers home, during his complete game shutout (7-0) against
Providence Catholic Saturday at Minooka High School March, 24, 2012.
| Ray Luna ~ For Sun-Times Media
Updated: June 7, 2012 7:25PM
Outside observers probably did not expect Minooka to be in the Class 4A State Baseball Tournament at Silver Cross Field.
Coach Jeff Petrovic, whose team challenges defending state champion Lyons at 5 p.m. Friday in the second 4A semifinal, readily admits the role his Indians relish.
“We are underdogs,” he said despite having the advantage of playing before what should be a good-size home crowd. “We weren’t expected to be here.
“Other teams have the big-name players. But I’m right where I want to be.”
The Class 3A semifinals will feature Troy Triad vs. LaSalle-Peru at 10 a.m. and the East Suburban Catholic Conference battle between Nazareth and Marian Catholic at noon. In 4A, Fox Lake Grant (25-11) takes on Oak Park-River Forest (28-9-1) at 3 p.m., followed by Minooka (27-13) vs. Lyons (26-12-1).
In Petrovic’s nine years at the helm, five Minooka teams have won more than 30 games. The 2006 team (32-8) finished fourth in the state.
While the Indians have experienced ups and downs this season, they are playing their best ball at the perfect time.
“I went into the season knowing we had great pitching and defense,” Petrovic said. “I really questioned how much we would hit. But early in the season, it was all opposite. I asked our coaches, ‘Was I really that wrong?’
“But as the year went along, we saw flashes of everything clicking. When we went through rough patches, I said, ‘I really believe in you guys.’ Lo and behind, we have put it together at the right time.”
Minooka’s postseason victories are 3-0 over Plainfield Central and 2-1 over Plainfield South in the regional, 4-3 over Moline and 9-0 over O’Fallon in the sectional and 6-3 over Naperville Central in the supersectional. The Indians have committed one error over those five games, and outstanding defensive plays have become commonplace.
“Now is as good a time as any to put it all together, and we have played well in every facet,” Petrovic said.
Senior right-hander Kevin Ruff threw a perfect game in the sectional final, and he’s the No. 2 starter. Senior left-hander Josh Jimenez, who will pitch his college ball at Bellarmine, is the ace and will start Friday, assuming he feels he can go on three days’ rest. He has not started on less than four days’ rest this season.
Whoever does not start between Ruff and Jimenez in the semifinal will get the ball Saturday when the Indians play for the championship at 5 p.m. or third place at 3 p.m. Jimenez is 11-2 with a 1.68 ERA and 114 strikeouts in 831/3 innings. Ruff is 8-5 with a 2.21 ERA. Sophomore right-hander Mitch Vogrin, who is 5-1 with a 0.00 ERA in 321/3 innings, is ready out of the bullpen.
“Kevin deserves a ton of credit,” Petrovic said of the perfect game. “The thing is, we made so many unbelievable defensive plays that day, we got 17 hits and we ran the bases like banshees. It was one of the most complete games I’ve seen a Minooka team or any team play.
“You don’t get to this point being one-dimensional. For sure, pitching and defense are going to win, and a timely hit or big break here or there will help. We’re playing with tons of confidence, playing our best baseball of the year by far.
“The way I look at it, I would not want to play us right now.”
Lyons has earned the opportunity, beating St. Laurence 8-3 and Mount Carmel 9-1 in the sectional and Marist 3-2 in the supersectional.
The Lions, who beat Providence 8-3 in last year’s state championship game, boast three players with seven home runs. Minooka’s leaders are seniors Carson Neushwander, TJ Condon and Austin Polcyn with three each.
The Indians, who likely will face Lyons junior right-hander Keith Lehmann (9-2, 0.86 ERA, 78 strikeouts in 73 innings), have six regulars hitting over .300, another at .293. Their lineup has proved it can produce the big hit anywhere from one through nine.
“Really, when you look at the last six to nine years, Minooka has been knocking on the door,” said Petrovic, whose careeer record is 255-85. “So even though we don’t have some of the big names and great teams of the past, us getting here is not a shock within our program.
“We’ve really played well the last seven or eight years, and now our kids expect it. They know they can win.”