MIKE NIETO: Illiana Christian baseball clicking at the right time

2014-05-29T20:00:00Z 2014-05-29T23:28:20Z MIKE NIETO: Illiana Christian baseball clicking at the right timeMike Nieto Prep Beat nwitimes.com
May 29, 2014 8:00 pm  • 

A few months ago, not a lot of people expected the Illiana Christian baseball team to be playing for a regional title.

The Vikings (17-15) will do just that at 10 a.m. Saturday when they play in the Class 3A Bremen Regional final.

Most would have been surprised if the Beecher softball team was not playing in the Class 1A Reed-Custer Sectional final. The Ladycats (31-7) take on the hosts Saturday morning.

Illiana Christian has won three nonconference games all year and two of them in the postseason. The Vikings beat Thornridge on Monday and got past Bremen on Wednesday. Their regular-season nonconference win was over a strong Oak Forest team.

"We struggled early with the weather and I think we are where we are at because of our tough schedule," Vikings coach Dan Gibson said. "We told the kids not to worry, even with the losses, we were seeing improvements. We got better as the season progressed. Yes, our record isn't great, but we are putting everything together when we need to."

In the regular season, Gibson played defending Class 4A state champion Mount Carmel and Times Indiana No. 1 Andrean.

Gibson and his team did not panic or throw in the towel. Instead they worked on the sometimes forgotten things like baserunning, hitting the cut-off man and bunting.

"We spent 45 minutes Tuesday working on bunting and moving the guy over," Gibson said. "We knew it would be a close game and that we have to do the little things. We are not a great team, but we are putting together when it counts."

The intangibles mean so much. Fans might not notice a missed sign or a missed hit-and-run, but it can show up in a loss. In this case, sudden elimination in the postseason.

Beecher has pounded the ball as the Ladycats have hit a program-record 31 homers. Freshman Taylor Johnson has the single-season record with 16, Sarah Crews has 10. Beecher coach Kevin Hayhurst said the little things might make a difference against Reed-Custer (17-18), which upset favored Bishop McNamara to win the Class 2A Bishop McNamara Regional.

"We beat them twice, swept them in a doubleheader, but they are playing real well right now," Hayhurst said of Reed-Custer. "Their pitcher Kenna Wilkey fanned 23 on Tuesday (in extra innings). They are not the same team we saw earlier this season.

"Our kids know this will not be an easy game."

You know Hayhurst and Gibson will have their teams ready.

This column is solely the writer's opinion. Reach him at mike.nieto@nwi.com.

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