BURBANK | “Defense wins games,” Jeremy Houston was saying. “You don’t have defense, you don’t win games.”
His defense and his offense helped Mount Carmel knock off St. Laurence in Thursday’s all-Catholic League 4A sectional semifinal at Reavis. The Caravan’s 3-2 victory set up another edition of that hardy South Side perennial, this time on a baseball field: Mount Carmel vs. St. Rita.
To get to Saturday’s showdown with the Mustangs (34-4), the Caravan (31-7) first had to stifle the Vikings, and Houston played a big role at shortstop. First, the 5-foot-9 sophomore went sky high to snare Mike Kornacker’s first-inning smash that was ticketed for left-center. That prevented Brad Wood from scoring from second.
Second, he doubled home A.J. Lewis with Mount Carmel’s first run in the bottom of the inning. The rest of the way, he caught another liner, started a 6-4-3 double play, and got another hit.
All those good deeds helped Nelson Munoz on the mound. In his second start since an early-May car accident in which he suffered a lacerated liver, Munoz scattered eight hits en route to his sixth victory. The junior right-hander allowed only two hits against Argo in last week’s regional semifinal, but St. Laurence (32-6) is a level or two up from the Argonauts.
“I had to keep the ball down and do what I had to do,” Munoz said, lauding his defense, which included third baseman Lewis throwing Robert Gutierrez, the potential tying run, out at the plate in the sixth. “I struggled with my curve (early), but I kept working on it.”
Caravan coach Brian Hurry had no complaints.
“In all honesty, I didn’t think he’d be pitching again this year,” Hurry said. “What he did today was what he was doing prior to the accident.”
Wood yielded five Cavavan hits and three runs in the first two innings, and didn’t allow a base runner thereafter. But St. Laurence, stranding nine, could only score twice, on Kornacker’s two-RBI double to center with two out in the fifth. After walking Roger Wilson, Munoz coaxed a pop-up from T.J. Marik to end the inning.
“We couldn’t execute at the end there,” St. Laurence coach Pete Lotus said. “It’s something we’ve been doing so well all season, but that happens.”
Scott Kapers moved from catcher to pitcher for Mount Carmel in the seventh, allowing only a scratch hit and striking out Mike Finger to end the struggle.
“I felt I had the upper hand when I went up there,” Kapers said.
The Caravan is trying to win back-to-back state baseball titles, a rare feat. Teutopolis did so in Class 2A in 2010 and 2011, but the only other double was Maine’s back-to-back in 1958 and 1959.
“We’ve been waiting for this moment,” Houston said. “We couldn’t come this far and lose now.”