Willowbrook's baseball team has seen the highest highs and the lowest lows this season.
At least the Warriors now know they're headed in the right direction.
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They began West Suburban Gold play in late March with a disastrous three-game series against Hinsdale South that featured one game with 10 errors. My, how things have changed.
Willowbrook took two of three from Gold-leading Downers Grove South this week capped by Monday's 1-0 win behind No. 3 pitcher Jake Cady's complete-game effort. Considering the Mustangs have only five losses the entire season, it was a mighty impressive few days for Willowbrook.
"The changes we made came from them," Warriors coach Vic Wisner said of his players. "Anybody can get up for a game, but these guys are making changes in how they go about their business. It's real change."
Wisner sensed the turnaround in a 1-0 WSC crossover win over Downers North on April 25. The Warriors have now won nine of 11 games as they attempt to build toward another deep playoff run.
Last season Willowbrook claimed its first regional title in 30 years. As this year's team creates its own identity, Wisner expects the Warriors to be tough once again in the postseason.
"A lot of these kids were around it last year and they understand it, they feel it," Wisner said. "It took us a long time to get there. I think for a long time they'd just go out there and it'd be like last year. They now realize they have to make last year happen."
You'll forgive the Class 3A Nazareth sectional field for not throwing Benet a welcoming party.
The Redwings, traditionally a 4A competitor, dropped to 3A because of an IHSA rule that allows private school programs to be granted an enrollment multiplier waiver if the program fails to achieve a certain level of success over a certain time span.
Because Benet last won a regional title in 2008, the Redwings were granted a waiver from the 1.65 enrollment multiplier. So instead of once again competing against Downers Grove South, Naperville Central, Neuqua Valley and other 4A powers, the Redwings will compete at Nazareth with the Roadrunners, Glenbard South, Montini and Riverside-Brookfield among others.
"It doesn't change much because you still have to beat good teams," said Benet coach Scott Lawler. "The biggest thing is just playing schools I haven't seen before."
Benet received respect from its new sectional opponents, earning the second seed to Nazareth, which split with the Redwings in their two-game East Suburban Catholic Conference series.
The Roadrunners are the only team in the field Benet's played, but the Redwings still have reason to be confident. Since starting the season at 1-3, they've won 15 of 18 games.
"We're not going to worry about the fact that it's a new group of teams," Lawler said. "We didn't worry about it last year, and we won't worry about it this year. All I know is we hope to play some of these top teams."
Pitching and defense haven't been an issue for Neuqua Valley this season. When the Wildcats have faltered, coach Robin Renner believes it's because of the lack of offense.
The unusually cold spring especially affected hitters, Neuqua Valley's included. Now that temperatures are starting to heat up, so are the bats.
"Now that the weather's warmed up we're getting better swings," Renner said. "Every time we play it's against somebody's best guy, but that's OK. That makes us better."
Neuqua Valley, usually one of the area's better hitting teams, was hitting a cumulative .308 after Tuesday's 6-2 win over Waubonsie Valley. If the weather stays somewhat warm, though, Renner expects the offense to kick it up a notch heading into the playoffs.
"It's 75 degrees and we swing the bats better when it's warmer," Renner said. "And we did (against Waubonsie Valley). We hit some balls pretty good."
On April 5, West Chicago coach Dan McCarthy and his Sports and Entertainment Marketing class organized a two-game charity event at Lisle's Benedictine University to benefit the David DeJesus Family Foundation, which was created by the Chicago Cubs outfielder and his wife, Kim.
The DVC-ESCC challenge featured Naperville Central against Joliet Catholic and Benet against West Chicago on the baseball field while West Chicago's softball team played on the adjacent field.
The event raised $3,500, and McCarthy's students presented DeJesus with the check at Sunday's Cubs game.
"I want to acknowledge the tremendous amount of time and effort our students put into this event," McCarthy wrote in an email. "They were responsible for soliciting ads for the program they created, securing raffle prizes, creating the T-shirt design and working the entire five-hour event on a very cold night."
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