In a way it would be fitting for a team Oakton College baseball coach Bill Fratto wasn't even sure would get to this point would go even farther than ever.
Oakton (41-17) is in the NJCAA Division II Region IV Final Four for the third time in Fratto's seven seasons as head coach. It opens play at noon Friday against top-seeded Madison College (40-11) in Madison, Wis.
"At the beginning of the year on paper I didn't know if we would have a .500 team or a 40-win team," Fratto said of a group that won a Skyway Conference title for the second time in his tenure. "They basically get after it. I've had better teams talent-wise but this team has just gotten it done."
Now what the Raiders would like to get done for the first time in their three Final Four trips is win a game, which would also equal the single-season school victory record. They went two-and-out in 2007 and 2010.
The other game in the tourney that runs through Sunday has No. 2 Kankakee (38-19) playing No. 3 Black Hawk College (43-9). Oakton has beaten Madison and Black Hawk but was swept by Kankakee during the season.
"Confidence-wise we feel we can play with them," Fratto said. "We're going with the confidence we can get it done and be the first Oakton team to get to the World Series (May 26-June 2 in Enid, Okla.)."
A big reason for the confidence is the pitching staff led by Derek DeYoung (8-3, 3.09 ERA), who Fratto believes will be picked in the upcoming Major League draft and will pitch the opener. South Elgin grad Kenny Lowden (6-4, 3.64) will start Oakton's second game and Troy Mannebach (6-1, 2.97, 86 strikeouts in 58 innings), Nick Vidas (6-0, 3.21) and Geneva product Riley Perry (4-5, 4.39) have thrived under pitching coach and former Schaumburg star T.J. Nall.
"T.J. has been unbelievable," Fratto said. "He's worked his butt off to get them where they are."
Oakton has a pair of Maine West products up the middle in West Virginia-bound shortstop Ryan Tuntland (.407, 19 2B, 5 HR, 53 RBI), another potential draft pick, and freshman second baseman Connor Skoczynski (.293).
The addition of former Rolling Meadows standout Dan Lauria (.354, 15 2B, 5 HR, 49 RBI), a transfer from Harper, has boosted the offense. Freshman third baseman Brett Synek (Glenbrook North) has set the school record with 9 homers and freshman catcher Richard Concialdi (Fremd) has made a big impact defensively.
"This team has been pretty special since day one," Fratto said. "Chemistry-wise and as a group they're really close-knit. It's probably the best team I've ever had when it comes to everybody working together to get the job done."
Black Hawk has a pair of area products in Palatine grad Joe Walsh (.333, 15 RBI) and Prospect grad and catcher Kurt Donner, who has appeared in 16 games.