Baseball: Solid seasons were the norm for Naperville area teamsNeuqua Valley pitcher, Nick Blackburn pitched well in a 2-1 loss to Lake Park on Thursday, Apr. 26, 2012. | Donnell Collins~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: June 7, 2012 7:56PM
With Naperville Central bowing out to Minooka, 6-3, on Monday in the Class 4A University of Illinois Supersectional, a game away from a second Class 4A state semifinal appearance in three years, another Naperville-area prep baseball season is in the books.
Naperville Central emerging out of the Class 4A Romeoville Sectional with a 12-2 victory over Metea Valley last Saturday with its third sectional title in the last four years marked the seventh time in the last eight years that a Naperville-area program has claimed a sectional title, dating back to Waubonsie Valley in 2005.
“You know what? It starts and ends with the kids,” Central coach Mike Stock said on June 2 after his team won the Class 4A Romeoville Sectional. “You look at Ian (Lewandowski). Here’s another — Nicky Ryan. They were parts of that state championship team (in 2010) and those are expectations and we can preach it all we want as coaches. It’s a matter of kids stepping up and getting the opportunities to do so. And you look at it, it’s an expectation we have, but kids have it also and they’re following through.”
Five of the six area programs won at least 19 games in 2012, paced by Neuqua Valley and Naperville Central, with 30 and 27 victories, respectively.
For much of the year, Neuqua Valley was the preeminent program in the area after recording the program’s best regular season with 28 victories, winning streaks of nine and 15 games.
But only two more wins followed for a program filled with players who fully expected to be in Joliet this weekend preparing for a Class 4A state semifinal. Instead, Neuqua was upset by 10th-seeded Metea Valley three games shy of Joliet.
“Well, 30 wins doesn’t mean a lot. I’d rather have 12 wins and make the sectional championship,” said Neuqua Valley coach Robin Renner, who led the program to its fourth 30-win campaign. “Well, so, right now 30 wins doesn’t mean a lot. It doesn’t. Maybe at the end if we had a sectional championship or anything like that, maybe (it would mean more), but at this point, there’s really not an issue.”
Shocking both second-seeded Hinsdale South and third-seeded Neuqua Valley in consecutive games during its postseason run, Metea Valley’s baseball program picked up right where its boys basketball program left off in its second year — with the program’s first regional title.
Senior left-handers Billy Sheeren and Tom Bolle combined for 12 of the Mustangs’ 19 victories as the Mustangs ended the season on a 12-6 run to finish at 19-19.
“Yeah, it’s a big step for us, you know. From a coaches’ perspective sometimes, you get to this point, you get a little greedy,” Metea Valley coach Craig Tomczak said after the Mustangs’ 12-2 loss to Naperville Central. “You think, ‘One more, one more. What if we can get one more?’ And, you know, like I said all along, with Billy and Tom, I mean, one more was always possible. And it’s this group of seniors. This group of seniors has been outstanding.
“We’ve had some ups-and-downs throughout the year, just inconsistent and we were able to ride it out. We knew getting to the tournament that all these guys were on board and they set the foundation for this program. So I couldn’t be more proud of this group of seniors.”
Four area programs — Naperville Central, Metea Valley, Neuqua Valley and Benet — played in regional finals and three area programs reached the sectional in the same year for the first time ever.
Not a bad way for the area to rebound from 2011, which saw only one area program win a regional title — Neuqua Valley.
Under first-year coach Scott Lawler, Benet finished 19-16 and nearly upset top-seeded Plainfield North on the Tigers’ home field in the Class 4A Plainfield North Regional.
“I’ve been blessed to have a great senior class,” Lawler said of his group before the season.
Opening the season in March with a victory at St. Rita, Lawler’s troops showed tremendous fight all season long in losing by one run to the likes of St. Laurence, Mount Carmel, Nazareth and Plainfield North.
A year after going only 11-20, Naperville North won 10 more games in 2012 to finish 21-14.
Unlike a year ago, the Huskies were able to dig themselves out of a hole by turning around a 4-10 start.
Concluding the regular season on a 16-2 tear, the Huskies rolled into the postseason with lots of momentum, only to be one-and-done in the postseason after falling to Bolingbrook for the second time this season.
The lone area team to end the spring below .500 was 15-19 Waubonsie Valley, which finished with a losing record for the first time since 2008.
But a year after winning a share of the Upstate Eight Valley title, Warriors’ coach Dan Fezzuoglio appreciated the daily effort of his guys, despite the results on the field not coming through as they would have liked.
“That’s the one credit, the one thing I want to say about them all year is that these guys never quit,” Fezzuoglio said. “That’s one thing, an element, that I’m always going to miss about these guys and the senior group because they did nothing but battle all year and every time we asked them to step up, to bounce back in tough situations all year, they have. So I give them credit for going down fighting.”