Derek Parola noted, with a smile, that he's been around Mundelein baseball "too much" during his life.
So following the Mustangs' 9-3 win over host Glenbrook South in a Class 4A sectional semifinal in Glenview on Thursday, the senior and son of Mundelein coach Todd Parola was confident in his assessment of Saturday's sectional final.
No. 3 Mundelein (34-2) will play -- oh, yes -- top-seeded Libertyville (33-5) at 10 a.m. The rivals split during North Suburban Lake Division action, with the visitor winning each time. Libertyville pulled out a 3-1 victory, before Mundelein won 8-6 the following day.
"It's probably the biggest game in school history," Derek Parola said after going 3-for-5 with a 2-run double in 4-run seventh that put away No. 2 Glenbrook South (29-6).
"It's going to feel like a state game," said catcher Logan Reckert, who was 3-for-4. "We thought those first two games were big."
Yes, Derek Parola is aware that Mundelein went to state for the first and only time in 2002, which was also the last time the Mustangs won a sectional.
"I was in kindergarten," he said. "I remember our class made posters."
A huge crowd, with kids and adults of all ages, will be expected Saturday, and Mundelein knows it can't afford another rough start if it wants to advance to Monday's Rockford (Aviators) supersectional. Glenbrook South took advantage of 2 uncharacteristic Mustangs errors in the bottom of the first to grab a 1-0 lead, after a double-play groundball ended a Mustangs threat in the top half of the inning.
"I don't know if we were uptight," Todd Parola said. "But we regrouped."
Facing 6-foot-5, 235-pound righty Conor McCarthy, who's signed with Villanova, Mundelein got back-to-back one-out singles from Parola and Reckert in the first inning.
"It was definitely good to come out hot and set the tone for the rest of the game," Derek Parola said. "I think everyone was locked in after that."
"It really gave us confidence for the rest of the game after we hit (McCarthy) early," Reckert said. "We knew we could get to him."
Mundelein kept hitting. Luke Peterson singled in the second, and then Mike Metz led off the third by coaxing a walk. Parola singled, Reckert knocked in Metz with a base hit, and Luke Adams' sacrifice bunt was so good that he beat it out for a hit. Peterson's sacrifice fly gave Mundelein a 2-1 lead, and Reese Dolan's RBI groundout capped the 3-run inning.
After McCarthy walked J.T. Michalski (1-for-3, RBI) with two out in the third, his day was done.
"He was just high with his fastball a little bit," Titans coach Steve Stanicek said of McCarthy. "When you're up in the zone against a good-hitting team, they're going to put the barrel on it a lot, and they did."
Adams' RBI single in the fourth and Dolan's run-scoring double in the fifth extended the Mustangs' lead to 5-1.
"I thought we took pretty good swings," Todd Parola said. "We put the ball in play. The infield was pretty hard, and we caught a couple of breaks on some bad hops, too."
After Mundelein starting pitcher Adam Turner allowed an unearned run thanks to the 2 errors in Glenbrook South first, the Titans touched the right-hander for a pair of singles in the second. They put two runners on base again in the third. When Turner walked the Nos. 8 and 9 hitters to start the fourth -- with Mundelein leading 4-1 -- Todd Parola made a pitching change.
"We just didn't think he had his best stuff," Mundelein's coach said. "We didn't think he had his velocity, and we thought he was just a little tentative."
Dillon O'Donoghue retired the next three hitters to get out of the jam, then worked a scoreless fifth, despite allowing a leadoff double to Cody Carroll. After O'Donoghue issued a pair of two-out passes in the sixth, Todd Parola went out and got him. Austin Blackmer allowed a 2-run double to Tommy O'Hara, making it a 5-3 game, before getting a strikeout.
Blackmer pitched the seventh to earn the save, while O'Donoghue got the win.
"(Turner) fought through it, even though he didn't have his best stuff," Reckert said. "He kept his mind straight and got through the innings. 'O.D.' came in -- in a tough situation -- pitched out of it, did great. And Austin came in and closed it out."
Todd Parola said either Metz or Tyler Kozaritz will start on the mound against Libertyville.
"We made enough plays (to win Thursday)," Todd Parola said. "But we're going to have to play a little better on Saturday, or else we'll be going home. I think our kids know we're capable of playing better."