Sometimes referred to as the 12th man in football or the 6th man in basketball, the bench can set a tone that can make or break a team.
For the Libertyville baseball team, the 10th man in the dugout has been a "maker" this season. And as usual, the bench was loud and encouraging on Wednesday at Glenbrook South.
"It's that 10th man in the dugout," Libertyville shortstop Jimmy Govern said. "It's won us a lot of games. It won us games in the playoffs last year (en route to a state runner-up finish). It always keeps us going. It keeps our heads up."
The Wildcats certainly needed a pick-me-up. They fell behind early to St. Viator in their sectional semifinal game before rallying for a 7-2 victory.
"The guys (in the dugout) give the nine guys out there the confidence to be successful," Libertyville centerfielder Matt Reed said. "Every time you come in the dugout, everyone's all over you with high fives and yelling and keeping everyone upbeat."
But not only did the bench pull its weight against St. Viator, the starters also came up big for Libertyville, which improves to 33-5 and will face the winner of today's semifinal between Mundelein and Glenbrook South at 10 a.m. on Saturday in the sectional title game.
Every player in the Libertyville lineup contributed with either a hit, a walk, a run scored or an RBI. That allowed the Wildcats to erase a 2-0 St. Viator advantage that held through the first two innings.
Depth and balance in the starting lineup has also been a strength for Libertyville this season.
"Our kids know that we're never out of a baseball game because 1 through 9, it doesn't matter if there's no outs, one out or two outs, we can score a run at any time with any two or three guys in succession," Libertyville coach Jim Schurr said. "It's experience (from last season), but I'm not going to lie to you, the talent we have certainly helps as well. When I look at 1 through 9 and know those guys can get a hit at any time, it's a real good feeling."
Libertyville finally got on the board in the third inning when Reed, who reached on a walk, was driven in on a sacrifice fly by Conor Simpson. That cut St. Viator's lead to 2-1.
The Wildcats' kicked down the door in the fourth inning by scoring 3 runs on 4 hits. Govern drove in a run with a double. Hunter Van Wagner drove in a run with a single. Noah Greenberg and Reed also got hits and Jake Vogt also picked up an RBI.
Reed drove in a run in the fifth inning and the Wildcats added two more runs in the sixth, thanks in part to an RBI by pinch hitter Ryan Jackson.
"Getting down like we did is kind of nerve-wracking, because, as a senior, any of these games could be my last game," Reed said. "But I know we'll fight back as a team like we did today."
While the offense got back on track, so did the pitching of starter Jeff Barton, who went the distance and was super-efficient after letting up the 2 runs in the top of the first.
Barton then allowed St. Viator (23-15) to get just 4 more hits while he walked only 2 more batters. He is now 8-0 on the season.
"After the first inning, my curveball was really working," Barton said. "Getting ahead in the count was huge for me. I was mad at myself for giving up the two runs, but with our offense, I didn't think it would be a problem. One through nine, we're very solid. Everyone can do something different and I think that helps us."
St. Viator's early success against Barton started with the first at-bat of the game. Matt Prazuch drew a walk. He was then driven in by Ben Dickey, who drilled a double in the next at-bat. Dickey also eventually scored on an error.
"We wanted to get off to a good start because we knew Libertyville can hit," Dickey said. "After the 2-0 start, I really thought we had something going. But (Barton) started to locate his curveball really well. And from there, it got more difficult.
"We knew that from top to bottom in that (Libertyville) lineup they can all swing and we knew we had to put up more than 2 runs to win this game. It's disappointing that we didn't because we thought we had something special on this team."