Teenage male athletes often don’t smile for team photos.
It’s all about looking tough.
On Saturday, the Libertyville baseball players didn’t show many teeth when photographers were snapping their picture on the third base side of Silver Cross Field in Joliet. But, this time, it had nothing to do with toughness.
The Wildcats were sad, too sad to smile, and their fans were trying to do their best to cheer them up.
“Smile, guys,” one female fan yelled gently from the stands as she watched the Wildcats stare into the cameras. “Smile. Second is soooooo good.”
Of course, Libertyville was hoping for first in the Class 4A state championship game. But the Wildcats fell just short to Mt. Carmel in a 2-1 defeat in which the winning run was gut-wrenchingly brought across on an error in the sixth inning.
“This is the worst thing I’ve ever had to go through,” Libertyville junior catcher Evan Skoug said through tears. “I couldn’t ask for better people to be with this season. I just wish I could have done more to help.
“You couldn’t ask for a better effort, we just fell short. And right now, it just hurts too much.”
When the sting subsides, the Wildcats will be able to grin (even if it’s just a little bit) about the fact that they were a part of modern history. Libertyville, which finishes with a 28-12-1 record, is the first team from Lake County to play in a state title game since 1988, when Barrington took second place. Overall, Libertyville’s place in the game marks only the ninth time that a team from Lake County has played for a baseball state championship, dating back to 1940.
North Chicago was the first Lake County team to break through, taking second place in 1955. Waukegan took second in 1960 and then won Lake County’s first state title in 1971. Libertyville took second in 1976, Waukegan West won the Class AA title in 1983 and Barrington won it in 1986 before placing second in both 1987 and 1988.
“It’s definitely special to be part of this. The coaches have said that it’s been a long time (for Lake County),” said senior center fielder Justin Guarnaccio, who drove in Libertyville’s only run with a single in the bottom of the sixth inning. “It’s surreal. Even getting here was unbelievable, the greatest experience of my life.
“You’re kind of happy for our season, but also sad that we lost and for me, this is my last game ever that I’ll play baseball. It’s definitely a weird feeling. I don’t like it. But I knew it was going to be emotional no matter what.”
The emotions kicked up a few notches in the top of the sixth. Up until that point, it was a tight, scoreless pitchers’ duel between Libertyville starter Nate Cote and lefty Jeremy Kravetz of Mt. Carmel. Both pitchers had let up only 4 hits apiece through five innings.
“I was nervous coming in, biggest stage I’ve ever been on,” said Cote, who walked just one batter in 6 full innings. “But once I got my first pitch across, I just worked on hitting my spots. I just wanted to attack.”
Cote began the sixth inning with an out but then hit the second batter, Jerry Houston. Right after that, Jason Gasser drove a double deep into the left field corner to score Houston. Gasser got to third on a sacrifice fly and then, with two outs, was able to score when Tom Hayes lined a ball to short that was misplayed on a bad hop.
That put Mt. Carmel up 2-0.
“It was a tough out and we made those plays all year,” Libertyville senior designated hitter Kevin Calamari said of the miscue. “You get a tough out every now and then, and what you have to do is pick everyone up and come together as a team and battle and I thought we did a great job of that today.”
The Wildcats battled right back into the game in the bottom of the sixth. After beginning with two straight outs on strikeouts, Calamari drilled a double to left field. Guarnaccio then drove in pinch runner Riley Lees with his single to cut the deficit to a single run.
Libertyville had Guarnaccio and Matt Vogt, who reached earlier after being hit by a pitch, on base but couldn’t get them in. The Wildcats were then retired in order in the seventh by Kravetz.
“I couldn’t be more proud of my kids,” Libertyville coach Jim Schurr said. “If you had told me that we’d get this far and lose to a school with kids from 26 different zip codes and we’re from a town of 15,000, I’d say I’d like that fight. We out-hit them. We out-pitched them. We just had one more error.
“There’s not much more you can do to put yourself in a position to be there. It just didn’t go our way.”
For Mt. Carmel, which finishes 32-8, the state championship is the first in school history. The Caravan didn’t place in its appearance in 2003, took second place in 2005 and placed fourth in 2011, all under current head coach Brian Hurry.
“It’s exhilarating,” said Hurry, who watched with his heart in his throat as the last out to be made by his team to clinch hung in the air for what seemed like an eternity. “That ball was in the air for quite some time and you just were thinking about how special this (moment) was.Copyright © 2014 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.