PERU – No coach or player wants a season to end, unless it’s with the biggest trophy that sport offers. Unfortunately, all but four Illinois baseball teams will be out of luck as far as that goes this season. What’s left for the rest are the memories they will take from the season and the lessons they learned from it.
There will be no shortage of either when it comes to the 2014 edition of the Morris Redskins baseball team.
It will have the memory of winning the first regional title for the program since 2003, of battling for a Northern Illinois Big 12 title, of winning the LaSalle-Peru Tournament. It will have the biggest lesson that most teams take from a season. That sometimes, no matter how well you play, things won’t always work out how you want.
For coach Todd Kein, the group of seniors – Kyle Hill, Matt Bernickus, Nick Evola, RIcky Pelnarsh, Austin Conrod, Brock Kukman, Geno Persico, Matt Darlington, Trevor Lines, Eric Robinson, John Struck, Grant Schluntz and Tim Smyk – will always hold a special place in his memory.
“These guys represented the program well all year long,” he said. “As a coach, that’s all you can ask for. Not only in the way they played in games, but the way they had 100 percent buy into what we do in our program. We were all on the same page, and I hope the younger guys on the team paid attention and learned from them.
“These seniors left their mark on the program. They understood that it wasn’t just for this year. The program goes on after they leave and they want it to keep going. I can’t ask for better role models for the young guys than this senior class. They left the program in a better place than it was when they joined it.”
It was fitting, then, that every big play in Wednesday’s game involved a senior. Conrod started the first-inning rally with a bunt single, then scored when Smyk doubled. Evola then kept the momentum going when he struck out the side in Peoria Notre Dame’s half of the first. In the top of the second, Schluntz laid into one and lined it over the fence for a leadoff homer and a 2-0 lead. Two outs later, Conrod singled again and Lines perfectly executed the hit-and-run by grounding through the vacated hole on the right side to put runners on first and third. Lines then stole second and Conrod scored on the double steal.
In the bottom of the seventh, with Morris trailing, 4-3, and facing Peoria Notre Dame’s Jake Hurst, a fire-balling 6-foot-4, 220-pound Bradley University recruit, Lines got a chance. He worked the count to 2-2, fouling off three tough two-strike pitches along the way, before singling to center and extending the season, if only for one more hitter.
“A lot of people will look back at a 4-3 game and remember a tough loss,” Kein said. “I will remember the at-bat that Trevor Lines had in the seventh inning. That was one of the best at-bats we had all season. He just fought and fought and came through.
“It’s too bad for these guys that they came up just short.”
Let me take a step back and apologize for a story earlier this week. I wrote that Morris’ last baseball regional title was in 2003 when Billy Petrick was pitching for them. The Redskins’ last title was indeed in 2003, but Petrick graduated in 2002. The leaders on the 2003 team, which won the Oswego Regional before losing to Plainfield South in the semifinals of the Morris Sectional, were Phil Balzer and Scott Hickey. In 2002, the Petrick team won the Morris Regional before losing the sectional semifinal game, hosted by DeKalb High School but played at Northern Illinois’ stadium, to West Aurora.