Baseball: St. Viator stays calm, eliminates Mundelein
It would have been easy for panic to set in.
But all the St. Viator baseball team needed to do was take a trip down memory lane.
Last year in the Class 3A state championship game, the Lions saw a late 7-run lead evaporate when Marian Catholic scored 7 runs in the bottom of the sixth inning to tie the game in the 11th hour.
But St. Viator roared right back and scored 2 runs in the top of the seventh, and that paved the way to the state championship.
When the Lions were watching Mundelein erase their big lead on Saturday afternoon in the regional championship, they got that uneasy feeling of deja vu and turned their minds to last spring at Slammers Stadium in Joliet.
"We've been in this spot before," said St. Viator first baseman Casey Pulikowski. "We just knew that if we stuck with it and stayed composed that we could still win it. We had done it before."
The poised Lions, who boast five starters back from last year and about half of the roster overall, did just that against second-seeded Mundelein en route to a dramatic 12-11 8-inning victory in a Class 4A regional championship hosted by the Mustangs.
St. Viator had built a seemingly insurmountable 8-0 lead through 4½ innings. But then in the bottom of the fifth inning, Mundelein stormed back with 4 runs to cut its deficit in half. Then the Mustangs scored 2 runs in the sixth to make the score 8-6 heading into the seventh inning.
When St. Viator scored 3 more runs in the top of the seventh, Mundelein seemed cooked for good. But the Mustangs answered with a 5-run seventh inning to tie the score at 11-11.
Perhaps the most dramatic moment of Mundelein's season came with 2 outs and No. 9 hitter Jared Dorfman smacking the first home run of his high school career to tie the game. Dorfman's only other home run in his life came in fifth grade.
"When I hit it, it was just amazing. I knew it was gone," Dorfman said. "Two outs, bottom of the seventh, it was just amazing. I have no words for that other than just awesome. My uncle is here from Indiana, I'm just glad he saw that. I'll never forget that.
"I thought we could win it then. The momentum was on our side. It's just sad that it had to end the way it did for our seniors."
With the game tied 11-11 heading into the eighth, the Lions talked about what happened to them last year in the state championship game. How Marian Catholic tied the game in the 11th hour just like the Mustangs did.
And so panic was thwarted, and all St. Viator did was load the bases in the top of the eighth, and then Casey Kmet took a walk that wound up driving in Pulikowski for the winning run.
"Our whole team came together," Kmet said. "I don't think anyone expected us to get the bases loaded. But we knew all along that we could find a way to win the game.
"The coaches brought up that we did it in the state finals and that we could do it again. It was awesome that we did."
Tenth-seeded St. Viator improves to 21-16 overall and will face Libertyville in Thursday's 4 p.m sectional semifinal at St. Viator. Libertyville was a 5-2 winner over Stevenson on Saturday.
"It was just crazy, the whole thing," Pulikowski said. "We stuck together when they came back and then when the game ended, it was so exciting and crazy.
"I think we are a pretty gutsy team and we showed that today."
The Lions are thinking this win and the theatrics that it entailed could provide just the momentum they need for another deep playoff run.
"I think our league (East Suburban Catholic Conference) is really good and it prepares us for tough games and to not panic," St. Viator coach Mike Manno said. "It comes down to the experience we have and it paid off today.
"I think with this game and the way it was, it could be a trampoline for us, it could really jumpstart us for sure."
Meanwhile, the Mustangs truly believed that Dorfman's dramatic home run was going to be their jumpstart. The faces were long and sad in the Mundelein dugout after the game ended.
"It's a tough way to go out, to battle back like that and to not be able to win it," said Mundelein coach Randy Lerner, whose team closes out the season with a 23-9 record. "We always believed in ourselves and knew we could do it. We have the confidence to know that we are never out of a game and it showed today. To tie it back up, it felt like things were going in our favor at that time."