NEW LENOX | There weren't a lot of frowns in Illiana Christian's post-game huddle Thursday, after the Vikings' season was ended in a with a 7-1 loss to Lemont in the Class 3A Lincoln-Way West Sectional semifinals.
There were more than a few smiles – from coaches proud of their players, from seniors comfortable with their legacy, from underclassmen who seemed thrilled to get a glimpse of what their potential might be.
"A lot of people didn't expect us to be the greatest team this year," senior pitcher Caleb Jonkman said. "And talent-wise, we weren't Lemont, obviously. But we did a lot of little things right. … That's what got us to our school's first regional championship since 2009."
Along the way, the Vikings (18-16) also won the Metro Suburban Conference title, getting to 14-4 in the league while going 0-11 in nonconference games. The regional title came after a play-in win and two upsets.
"What we accomplished, they should be proud of," Illiana coach Dan Gibson said. "We struggled a little bit, then to win a conference championship, and a regional championship …
"We just didn't play our best game today. We looked a little tight — and Lemont is just a really good team."
The Indians (31-5) advanced to Saturday's 11 a.m. sectional title game behind a combined two-hitter from Charlie Wright (6-1) and Garrett Acton. Jonkman took the loss, but he had one of the two base hits, while fellow senior Kyle Van Kalker had the other.
Louisiana State-bound catcher, Mike Papierski, walked and scored in the first inning, had an RBI double in the third and singled and scored in the sixth to highlight Lemont's 11-hit attack. The Indians also capitalized on five Illiana errors, and made Jonkman throw a lot of pitches.
"That's something I talked to the guys about," Gibson said. "All their hitters go deep in the count. Hopefully, we learned something."
From the sound of it, sophomore right fielder Jack Hillegonds did.
"Every time I looked at the scoreboard, it was a 3-2 count," he said. "It shows we have a lot of work we've got to do in the offseason."
Illiana's seniors – Jonkman, Van Kalker, Brett Detmar, Tony Dykstra, Christian Cody Koehler, Lucas Miedema, Mark Pals and Joe Skrbina – are moving on to different pursuits. Only Van Kalker plans to play in college, at Trinity Christian.
But they will look back fondly.
"We all walk out knowing we did something special," Jonkman said. "With conference and regional championships, we set a high bar for the guys behind us to reach for."