Baseball: St. Viator duo caps outstanding run for Lions
Baseball has a long history of great duos.
Ruth and Gehrig. Mantle and Maris. Spahn and Sain. Rizzo and Bryant.
St. Viator now has its own great duo to tout.
Hintz and Pluta.
The pair have long been a part of the success at St. Viator, going all the way back to playing together on a summer travel team right after they both graduated from grammar school. It continued for four varsity seasons when they both made the top team as freshmen.
And try as you may, you can't split their value and leadership to their team.
St. Viator coach Mike Manno couldn't when he nominated both as co-players of the year in the East Suburban Catholic Conference. The conference itself couldn't when they voted them as co-MVP's.
And neither can we.
So, for the first time in 10 years, the Cook County All-Area Baseball Team will have co-captains with St. Viator's Casey Hintz and Tony Pluta.
Both players had a great year on the mound where each of them has been clocked in the low 90s.
Hintz was a beast on the bump. He was 9-0 with three saves and a mind-boggling ERA of .52. He fanned 72 in 54.1 innings and allowed just 30 hits.
"Casey had an amazing year on the mound," Pluta said. "I have never seen anything like it. I thought I had a pretty good year at the plate and I think we found a balance that way."
Pluta had some offseason health issues which forced him to get a later start on the mound. He made nine appearances with a record of 3-1 and an ERA of 3.46. He struck out 54 in 28.1 innings.
Hintz, who is a defensive whiz at shortstop with just 6 errors, also was strong at the plate. He hit .315 batting in the No. 2 spot. He scored 40 runs to lead the team and had 30 stolen bases.
Pluta was a fierce hitter for the Lions, who went 35-3 this season. Pluta's slash line was .463/.626/.863 with 7 homers and 27 RBI. He was also walked 40 times and led the team in runs scored with 38.
"We always found a way to make an impact," Hintz said. "Tony had a great year at the plate for us and his pitching at the end of the season was a huge asset as well.
Manno said that both Hintz and Pluta sparked his team.
"Both are catalysts in their own right," St. Viator coach Mike Manno said. "Their numbers speak for themselves. They are great human beings. I just felt like when we were rolling, one of these two guys were doing something special. Then our other players followed suit. "
The pair does have their own style at leadership according to Manno.
"I can separate them there," Manno said. "Casey's leadership is second to none. He is a general on the field and a bulldog on the mound. He is a more of a vocal leader. Tony is much quieter. He likes to lead by example."
Hintz says that he learned some of those leadership skills from his parents and former Viator star and current South Carolina player Jack Mahoney.
"My parents really built that in me," Hintz said. "Jack Mahoney taught me a lot. Not just the game of baseball but how to help motivate a team and how to pick your spots. They all just set the path for me."
Pluta agrees with Manno's assessment on his leadership abilities.
"I usually used the game as my way of leading," Pluta said. "Just for the opportunity for us to play varsity freshman year, I think that cemented us as the guys meant to show everyone else how it was and how it was meant to be. We were the guys who knew how coach Manno expected us to play. We were able to extend that to the younger guys as they came up. "
That leadership extends to the classroom as well where they both excel. Hintz had a 3.80 GPA (on a 4.00 sacle). Pluta was ranked second in his class with a 4.82 GPA and had a perfect 36 on his ACT.
"That type of classroom work shows that they really know what is important," Manno said. "They both are the real deal."
The University of Arizona thinks so as well.
Thanks to some contacts that area club coach and scout Tom Barnard had at Arizona, both Hintz and Pluta were offered spots on the Wildcats' team. Beginning in the fall, they will be teammates again.
"All of a sudden, they are at the U of A," Manno said. "That just doesn't happen."
Just can't split them.