Homefield advantage might be overrated.
The Carmel baseball team could make that argument this season.
Due to excessive rain waters that have made drainage of their home field an ongoing challenge, the Corsairs have often had to make their home on the road. As of Wednesday, Carmel had played 14 games on the road, and just 3 at home.
"We've lost a bunch of games because our field wasn't ready. Home games have been switched to road games," Carmel coach Dann Giesey said. "There is a retention pond behind our property and it's flooded and the low spot is our right field corner. We've had 6 to 8 inches of water there for most of the season.
"We haven't been able to play any conference games at home yet."
But in taking on the role of road warriors, the Corsairs have held their own away from the friendly confines of their home in Mundelein. They've gone 12-2 on the road en route to a 14-3 overall record, with important road wins over Marian Catholic, Joliet Catholic, St. Viator and Nazareth.
"You're in a hurry to get on the bus after school, but it forces you to be focused and organized," Carmel pitcher Matt Ryan said. "To be honest, I love it. Our team has so much fun on those bus rides, and sometimes they are really long bus rides. But we all get along so well. We love hanging out together. I think our guys really like the extra time we have to be together and have fun."
As a coach, Giesey looks at the extra road games from a practical standpoint, and he sees a benefit there, too.
"I think you have to be tough when you play on the road, because your pregame routine gets messed up and you've got to play a game after sitting on a bus for over an hour," Giesey said. "For us, all these road games have made us tougher. The guys have handled it well. They believe they can win on the road now and that could be important later in the season."
But, it will also be important for the Corsairs to be able to win at home. Ironically, they host a regional this season. By then, they will have played 22 road games to only 12 home games.
"The whole purpose of hosting a regional is that you think you're more comfortable at home," Giesey said with a laugh. "It's funny that we'll probably be more comfortable on the road at that point."
Saw that coming:
There was an early tip-off that Carmel was going to have a tough season with Mother Nature.
The Corsairs planned a Spring Break trip to St. Louis. But a rare winter storm in that part of the country all but wiped out their schedule of games.
Carmel had planned to play seven varsity games and five junior varsity games while in St. Louis. The weather wiped out five varsity games and three junior varsity games.
"That kind of set the stage for what has been a crazy season weather-wise," Carmel coach Dan Giesey said. "We've lost a bunch of games at home because of flooding issues. So we've had to go on the road, but we've had trouble there, too. What should have been a 40-minute trip to York for a game took us about two hours because there was a big accident near the O'Hare Oasis and we were stuck in traffic. It seems like we've always just been waiting for the other shoe to drop this season. Something always seems to happen that makes the conditions tough."
Staying the course:
It might have been tougher for Brett Milazzo to get reps in the outfield last season for Carmel than it was for him to land a spot on the Purdue baseball team.
Milazzo played behind a talented group of seniors and had a relatively quiet junior season last year. But thanks to a productive summer and eye-catching performances at various showcases, camps and tournaments, Milazzo still made his dream of playing college baseball come true.
He signed early with the Boilermakers and has kept his edge. He is one of Carmel's top offensive producers with a .400-plus batting average.
"When you have three seniors in front of you who are tearing it up, you're not going to get a lot of opportunities but Brett kept working and he had a great summer and fall," Carmel coach Dann Giesey said of his senior outfielder. "We try to tell all of our talented juniors who have seniors in front of them to look at Brett and what he's done.
"The coaches at Purdue really liked what they saw in Brett. He's got good wheels and a good bat and that fits their model. They like those speedy guys."
With a couple of sophomores and no seniors in his infield, Stevenson coach Paul Mazzuca had an inkling of what he would be in for this season.
At least very early on.
The Patriots made a lot of errors with their young infielders and that translated to a 5-6 start.
"During that stretch, we were averaging 5 errors a game, and those were just the errors in our infield," Mazzuca said. "I think it was a combination of not getting a lot of practice outside due to the bad weather early in the season and having a lot of young guys in the infield. Those guys need game experience and when you don't have that, you're going to struggle, you're going to make mistakes."
As the young infielders, led by sophomores Willie Bourbon (third base) and Jimmy Marchese (shortstop), got that game experience, the Patriots saw a big shift in their results. They've won their last seven games and are now 12-6. More importantly, they are 6-1 in the North Suburban Conference Lake Division and keeping pace with defending champion Mundelein.
"Our defense has been a lot better lately," Mazzuca said. "There are still days our sophomores still look like sophomores, but there are more days that they look great. They're both so athletic and they can do a lot of things, but what I like about them the most is that they are so competitive and that's hard to teach.
"They've been real determined and they've kept their heads held high during some of those tough times. They just kept working hard and they showed a lot of inner maturity, which is why in the first place a sophomore would be up on varsity."
Underclassmen may dominate Stevenson's roster, but a pair of seniors have been standing front and center all season.
Tony Heiser, the only senior in the everyday starting lineup, has gotten hot at the plate lately and is a big reason the Patriots are on a seven-game winning streak. Meanwhile, senior pitcher Matt Allen has gotten 3 wins as the team's ace.
"It's been a learning process for our team all season because we're so young," Stevenson coach Paul Mazzuca said. "But we've been kept in a lot of games because of guys like Matt and Tony."
Allen came on strong at the end of last season, performed well over the summer and emerged as the Patriots' No. 1 for this season.
"Matt was a big reason we won the regional last year," Mazzuca said. "He's not going to blow up the radar gun, but he can throw three pitches for strikes. He's just a really good pitcher."
In fact, Allen was good enough at the University of Iowa camp last summer to grab the attention of the coaches there. They offered him a spot on the team for next season as a preferred walk-on.
"Iowa has always been Matt's dream school," Mazzuca said. "His older sister went there and he was really hoping to go, too. They really liked him there."
Stevenson and Mundelein currently have just 1 loss apiece in North Suburban Conference Lake Division play.
The stage has been set for an important showdown when they face off in the last week of the regular season.
"It would be nice for the conference if the race came down to those final days of the season," Stevenson coach Paul Mazzuca said. "There's a lot of work to be done ahead, but that would be a good ending."
Stevenson and Mundelein have owned the division in recent years. Last year, the Mustangs won the division title and Stevenson won it the previous two years.
Simeon simply smoking:
Warmer weather, hotter bat for Simeon Lucas.
Grant's junior catcher had quite a week at the plate, as the Bulldogs faced Lake Forest, Prairie Ridge, Wauconda and Vernon Hills (twice). During the stretch, Lucas went 12-for-18 (. 667 batting average) with 2 home runs, 5 doubles, 11 RBI, 12 runs scored, 4 walks, 3 stolen bases and a sacrifice fly. He slugged at a 1.278 clip and posted a .708 on-base percentage. His OPS was a robust 1.987.
Lucas also threw out 4 of 6 would-be base stealers. He even pitched, picking up a save against Prairie Ridge.
For the season, Lucas is hitting .509 (28-of-55) with 9 doubles, 1 triple, 6 homers and 34 RBI. He's also walked 19 times, which helps explain his .623 on-base percentage. His slugging percentage is 1.036.
When Libertyville shortstop Jimmy Govern made a couple of uncharacteristic errors in Wednesday's loss to Mundelein, it seemed to get in his head.
And Govern certainly didn't need any more headaches.
Govern was playing in his first game after he was forced to take eight days off to recuperate from a concussion.
He collided with teammate Alec Semersky last week in practice going for a flyball. Semersky is on crutches with a bum leg, which means the Wildcats have been operating without two of their top hitters as well. Govern ranks second and Semersky fourth on the team in batting average.
"It's been tough to play without those two and I thought getting Jimmy back would give us a lift, but you could tell that Jimmy was a little out of synch out there and he's not used to that," Libertyville coach Jim Schurr said after the Mundelein game. "If he takes 100 groundballs, he's going to field 95 or 96 of them. For him to be where he was today, was hard. He is only a sophomore but he usually doesn't play like one. This has been tough for him because today he was a 15-year old out there."