While many baseball teams in Lake County were stuck inside over spring break last week, Libertyville was one of several teams to have some fun in the sun.
The Wildcats made their annual trip to Arizona, and once they arrived, head coach Jim Schurr was reminded instantly of the upside of all the hard work that goes into planning such an undertaking.
"God willing, I'll be going to Arizona every Spring Break, as long as our players and administrators want to go," Schurr said. "I would never want to stop going.
"We've been going there for 10 years now and you can't beat that location and the weather there. We've had maybe one bad weather day there in 10 years. We're able to get a lot done."
The Wildcats went 3-1 in Arizona, and faced some notable teams. They defeated last year's state champion from Oregon, Wilson High School and also got a win over the host school, Horizon of Scottsdale, which has finished as Arizona's state runner-up the last four years in a row.
"I thought we played pretty well, considering we played more games out there than we had practices going into it," Schurr said. "Because of the bad weather here, we hadn't even been outside for practice before we left for Arizona. And we got in one practice there before we started playing our games.
"We hit the ball pretty well and we got some good pitching out of Nate Cote and Mike Rogers."
Schurr said that, as usual, the trip also went well off the field, which is always a relief to him considering how much time goes into the planning and execution of such a large event.
"There's all the scheduling and travel arrangements and getting chaperones and funding in place," said Schurr, whose players do fundraisers as one way to pay for the trip. The team's parent organization also raises money.
"It's a lot of work, but I think the kids recognize that and that's part of the reason they conduct themselves so well. I mean, we've been invited back to the same hotel every year we've gone to Arizona. We tell the kids that they don't want to be the team that ruins it for other teams. We keep them under control and people out there can see that they do a lot of good things. It's been such a good trip that I can't even really put a price on it."
Some color from the sun wasn't the only thing Libertyville's Mike Rogers and Evan Skoug brought back from Arizona.
They were rewarded with some well-earned distinctions for their play on the field. Both made the all-tournament team while Skoug also earned the tournament's Gold Glove award.
Rogers, one of the Wildcats' top pitchers, turned heads when he recorded a 1-run win against the host school, Horizon of Scottsdale.
Skoug, a junior catcher who is already getting college scholarship offers from major Division I programs, made believers in Arizona when he threw out multiple baserunners and protected the plate almost flawlessly.
"Evan blocked every ball in the dirt," Libertyville coach Jim Schurr said. "And he was throwing out so many guys that teams just eventually decided never to run on him. The people out there in Arizona told us that the Gold Glove had never gone to a catcher before in the 12 years of the tournament. Usually outfielders who make a couple of diving catches or shortstops who turn some double plays get it. But they felt like they had to give it to Evan because he was just that good."
Skoug, who hit better than .500 in Arizona with 4 doubles and a home run, already has an offer on the table from perennial collegiate power Vanderbilt.
Learning on the job:
Due to all the snow and cold temperatures of the early spring, some Lake County baseball teams are treating their games like practices.
"You kind of look at some of your first games as instructional games," Vernon Hills coach Jay Czarnecki said. "We haven't been outside much. This week, we've gotten some games in and we were able to play some over Spring Break because we went south to (downstate) Marion. In those early games, you do a lot of teaching and you find yourself practicing things in games."
Catcher Joey Marras is one Cougar who is learning on the job.
Just a sophomore, Marras is trying to fill the shoes of his highly accomplished brother, Chris, who is now catching at Butler. Marras thought he'd have plenty of time to adjust to his jump from the freshman team last year to the varsity this year.
But since Jordan Freibrun, the Cougars' other catcher, is still recovering from a broken finger, Marras has been thrust into the starting spot. And with no real practices over the first couple weeks of the season, Marras has had to use games as his classroom.
"When we thought we'd have Jordan, we thought we'd have the luxury of bringing Joey along a little bit more slowly and rotating the two of them," Czarnecki said. "Now, a lot of things are happening for Joey really fast and that can be tough, especially when you're a catcher because you are in on so much and you have to know so much.
"But Joey's doing a pretty good job so far. We keep working with him on little things he needs to watch for. It will be good when we are able to get in some more practices with him."
Although he's not quite ready to put a glove on fast-moving pitches, Vernon Hills catcher Jordan Freibrun has been able to contribute in other ways so far this season.
Freibrun suffered a serious break in his finger during football. A quarterback for the Cougars, Freibrun sustained some cartilage damage and has found catching duties to be difficult.
But Freibrun has played in the outfield so far this season and has been able to hit as well.
"He's batting in the top five for us so far," Vernon Hills coach Jay Czarnecki said. "I think his success at the plate has helped him with his defense out in the field. It's given him confidence to be able to make plays, even with his finger. Sometimes when you're hitting well, that rubs off to other parts of your game and I think it has for Jordan."
The Grayslake North baseball team had all the best intentions of escaping Lake County's unpredictable March weather. But Mother Nature still got the best of the Knights.
They were supposed to spend their Spring Break last week in downstate Marion playing a handful of games over the course of a few days against local and other suburban teams.
But Grayslake North's game schedule wasn't favorable. All of the Knights games were at the beginning of the week, just as the area got hit with a large snowstorm. The Knights didn't want to travel through the snow.
"We got our first two games cancelled. We would have been able to play our third game, but it was against Vernon Hills," Grayslake North coach Andy Strahan said. "We figured, why drive all that way to play a team that's 30 minutes away. So we just didn't go at all."
Instead, the Knights got a couple of days off. When they returned for practice, they were able to get in some work on their own field, which was a good primer for their opening games against Lakes and Antioch: both wins.
"We had a lot of mistakes against Lakes, it was apparent that it was just our third day outside, but we hung in there," Strahan said. "We have some guys who have gotten off to a very good start for us. If we can put all the phases together around them, we'll have a very good season."
Oldies, but goodies:
Bad weather and a lack of practice time haven't hurt Adam Gomski or Carl Russell. The two Grayslake North seniors are savvy veterans who aren't fazed by much.
Gomski and Russell made the varsity as sophomores and both were named all-conference last year, along with fellow senior Nick Carmody.
Gomski pitches and plays third base while Russell is at shortstop and Carmody is at second base.
"When you have players who have been in the program for that long, it really helps," Grayslake North coach Andy Strahan said. "They know what the coaches are asking for, they know what to expect and they are able to help the other guys."