MINOOKA — It's every baseball team's dream to win a state championship at the end of the year. The reality of it, however, is that only one team in each of the four IHSA classes will hoist the title above their head come June. Although the Minooka Indians weren't one of those four baseball teams this year, they did finish fourth in the 4A class, sending their seniors out on a high note.
The Indians were a senior-led team all year, as six of the nine opening day starters in the batting lineup were seniors and pitcher Josh Jimenez was on the mound. By the end of the season, there were seven seniors in the lineup, as Nick White replaced the injured Steve Wittkamp in left field.
"I think it helped us out that we had seniors because we had experience in conference play," senior center fielder Alex Bebar said. "And although we only played one postseason game our previous year, it helped us."
"For a long time in my career, I really thought seniors didn't make that big of a difference," Minooka head coach Jeff Petrovic added. "But what I've seen recently, having guys with a lot of experience makes things a lot better."
In total, there were nine seniors on the Indians squad this past season. Despite having experience, Minooka was not one of the favorites coming into the season, helping relieve some pressure off their shoulders.
"I think other people thought we were an underdog," senior shortstop Tyler Thorson said. "Obviously our goal coming in was to win conference and play the way we were suppose to play. I personally just wanted to win regionals."
The Indians finished the regular season at 22-13, the second worst record in the nine years under Petrovic, in a year in which there wasn't as many expectations.
"I think we played a little freer this year, but we didn't have the best record we could have," Petrovic said. "We kind of just hovered there a little bit."
"We struggled early in the season, and we knew we could play a little better," Bebar said. "We knew we could go on a run if we played unbelievable baseball."
The postseason is where that senior leadership came through for Minooka, however, as it went on an incredible postseason run, reaching the state series. Pitching proved to be key, as Jimenez and fellow senior Kevin Ruff dominated the competition, not allowing an opponent more than three runs up to the state competition.
"It's such a tough time getting down to state," Petrovic added. "Did I feel that if we played our best that we could get there? Yes. Did I expect us to be there though? No."
Although the Indians went 0-2 over the weekend and finished fourth, it was one last go-around for the nine seniors that helped get Minooka to that point in the season. For most of them, it was the last time they'll ever play baseball together.
"It really hit me that this was one of the last times we were going to play with each other during the semi-final game against Lyons," Thorson said. "That game just meant more and it was a lot more hard to take in."
"It was a bittersweet feeling," Bebar added. "It was pretty tough to handle, but I loved playing with these guys. We grew as a team throughout the year and it was great to see."
Although this is the end for Thorson, Bebar, Ruff, Jimenez, White, TJ Condon, Nick Fleishauer, Carson Neushwander, and Austin Polcyn, the nine seniors will take on many great attributes as they head on to the college level, whether they're playing baseball or not.
"All the coaches were great leaders to us," Bebar said. "They had such belief in us and that let us believe in ourselves to let us go on that great run. They're just overall great people."
"I'm going to take this experience to help younger kids," Thorson added. "Even if they don't like baseball, there's nothing like playing in the postseason. I never understood that until I went through it this year. It's such a great feeling."