What became clear in a some-kind-of-wonderful postseason for Grant's baseball team last spring was that the Bulldogs' young talent was legitimate.
Simeon Lucas, for example.
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All he did as a sophomore at state was go 3-for-3 with 2 doubles and an RBI in Grant's Class 4A state-semifinal loss to Oak Park. The next day, he again thrived playing in Joliet's minor league ballpark, singling in a run in helping the Bulldogs beat Minooka for third place.
He even pitched 3 scoreless innings in relief against Minooka.
Sim: kind of wonderful.
"Our whole team was pretty much juniors last year, except for our ace pitcher (Jared Helmich)," Lucas noted. "That whole experience (at state) was just fun with all my teammates and all the guys who are like my brothers. We had a great time down there. Everybody performed as best as they could. It was a shame that we couldn't give Oak Park a better game, but the second game we came out and played our game."
Sim Lucas has lots of game.
Considered one of the top catching prospects in the state, the junior accepted a Division I baseball scholarship to Illinois State University this winter. He had narrowed his choices to ISU and Iowa. He also considered Michigan State, Illinois and Southern Illinois. He took unofficial visits to all five universities.
Consider the catcher's verbal commitment a great catch for ISU, which beat out a trio of Big Ten schools for Lucas' services.
"I have nothing but respect for all the Big Ten schools," Lucas said. "They're great programs. All the coaches are just great. I just clicked more on a personal level with the coaches from ISU. I just really appreciate the program and how Coach Kingston has turned it around from being not really a big name to, in the last two years, becoming a really big name in the Missouri Valley Conference."
At ISU, Mark Kingston is king. In his first three seasons as head coach, he has led the Redbirds to three major milestones, including a program-best 36 wins in 2011 and ISU's first MVC regular-season championship in 2010. With 33 victories in 2012, the Redbirds have amassed 30-plus-win campaigns for a program-best three consecutive seasons. Additionally, four Redbirds have been drafted under Kingston's leadership.
"The committing process starts so early," said Lucas, who can't take official college visits until he's a senior. "It was a chance that I couldn't pass up. If you don't pick them, then they keep recruiting."
Lucas bats left-handed and, at 6 feet 2 and 190 pounds, already looks the part of a college baseball player. He's got two more years of high school ball to continue to fill out and became an even better ballplayer.
"A lot of college coaches have been telling me that I'm a hitter that can catch," said Lucas, the youngest of two boys of Larry and Carol. "I'm not saying that I'm a horrible catcher. It's just that hitting is definitely my strong suit. ... I love (catching). I love having the chance to be in control of the game every play. It's a great time."
It's a particularly great time for Grant baseball. Speedy senior outfielder Jake Ring has already signed with Missouri, while coach Dave Behm reports that fellow seniors Jordan Villareal, Jacob Trumpis, Brent Spohr and Tyler Gorski all likely will play college baseball too.
"We got all the juniors back and all the sophomores that have become juniors," an optimistic Lucas said.
Tryouts are less than a month away.
Expect a similar season from Sim -- and his teammates.