As he and his teammates circled up before Friday's first pitch, a No. 13, Stevenson senior center fielder Max Golembo, shared his perspective on a No. 13 seed, Highland Park.
"I told the guys before the game that anyone that's still left has got to be a good team," Golembo said. "They got to be playing baseball well now, and that's all that matters is playing well in the postseason. That's what we've been doing, and that's what (Highland Park) has been doing. Seeds don't really matter at this point."
The 13th-seeded Giants haven't been lucky in the state tournament. They've just been good.
Highland Park's 5-1 win over No. 7 Stevenson in the teams' Class 4A sectional semifinal at Glenbrook South in Glenview was further proof.
Another No. 13, Highland Park senior first baseman Christian Biondi, got the scoring going with an RBI single in the top of the first, and the Giants never looked back. The win evened up their record at 19-19 heading into today's 10 a.m. sectional final against top-seeded Mundelein (34-4).
Stevenson finished 23-14.
"In our sectional, there's no difference between the 3 seed and the 15 seed," Patriots coach Paul Mazzuca said. "There's so many good teams. Highland Park is a good team."
Before Friday, Highland Park's postseason ride included wins over No. 3 Glenbrook South and No. 6 Carmel in the Warren regional.
"We've always been a team with lots of potential," winning pitcher Max Mordini said. "Most of us have been playing together since we were 9 years old. We all know each other and we all know what we can do. When the playoffs came around, we all started clicking and playing to our potential.
"Our captain, Jason Goldstein, gave us a good speech (before the state tournament)," Mordini added. "He said, 'No more should've, could've. Just make the plays and play as hard as you can.' "
Stevenson managed just 4 singles -- by Golembo, Jon Savarise, Jack Karras and Will Sullivan -- off Mordini, a 5-foot-10 senior right-hander.
Mordini overcame 4 walks and 2 hit batsmen thanks to a solid defense led by third baseman Alec Van Cleve, who twice speared hot shots off the bat of Illinois-bound Adam Walton. Mordini also triggered a 1-6-3 double play after Karras led off the bottom of the sixth with a walk.
"Unbelievable," Goldstein, the Giants' catcher and Walton's future teammate at Illinois, said of Mordini. "He's got a lot of heart. He threw strikes, kept the ball down, and that's all you can really ask of a high school pitcher. We knew Stevenson could hit. I just told him, 'If you throw strikes and you keep the ball down in the zone, let these kids hit. They're not going to put the ball out with the wind blowing in 20 miles an hour.' That's what he did."
Goldstein had the big blow in Highland Park's 4-run fourth that extended the Giants' lead to 5-0. Daniel Oversen drew a bases-loaded walk from Patriots starter Matt Allen, and then Goldstein doubled into the left-field corner to score a pair. Harrison Carl then lifted a sacrifice fly to cap the inning.
Stevenson loaded the bases with one out in its half. Golembo's fielder's choice plated Karras. But after freshman Will Bourbon walked, Mordini got the dangerous Walton to fly out to right field.
"The kid made good pitches, and the balls that we did hit hard were right at them," Mazzuca said. "So credit their pitcher and defense."
Mordini, who worked a 1-2-3 fifth, didn't allow a hit over the final three innings. He struck out just a pair of Patriots.
"We've always had trouble with slow, junkball righties," said Golembo, who will play next at Washington University. "We struggled at the plate. I think our approach was good. I think guys just didn't come through in big situations."
Mordini smiled when told of Golembo's description of him.
"I have a decent curveball, and I knew that in order for me to be successful today I really would need to pound the zone with that curveball," Mordini said. "In the first three innings I was hitting all my spots with it, and that really helped us out because I'd get ahead in the count, and then they're kind of off-balance. They don't know what's coming."
Highland Park leadoff man Jordan Schwartz went 2-for-3, was hit by a pitch and scored twice. Biondi was 2-for-3, as well, with a double.
"We expected a lot out of this group," Giants coach Eddie Pieczynski said. "We've battled a lot of injuries and some illness this year. That's baseball. That's the season. But you want to click when the end of the season comes around, and that's what we're doing."