Baseball: St. Viator dumps Palatine, will play Warren for regional title
It's been only two weeks.
But St. Viator third baseman Casey Kmet seems to be quickly getting the hang of his new position in the Lions' batting order.
Kmet spent most of the season batting third or fourth.
Then, with the regular season coming to a close, he was unexpectedly moved to the leadoff spot.
St. Viator coach Mike Manno decided to shake up his lineup in the hopes that the changes would provide some new energy for the playoffs.
"I was getting on base a lot so I think they (the coaches) figured that if I could keep doing that to start the game, I could give us some momentum," Kmet said.
Kmet helped St. Viator start Thursday's Class 4A Warren regional baseball semifinal game against Palatine with plenty of positive momentum.
He opened the game with a single and eventually scored as part of a 2-run first inning for the Lions. Then he led off an explosive third inning for St. Viator.
His single was the first of 10 at-bats in the inning, which yielded 6 runs and 5 hits and was the key to St. Viator's 8-5 victory over Palatine.
The Lions, who improved to 18-14 on the season, advance to Saturday's 10 a.m. regional championship game against host and top-seeded Warren, the top-ranked team in the Daily Herald Top 20.
On Monday, St. Viator defeated Warren in a nonconference game, 3-2 in nine innings. The Lions are vying for their fourth straight regional championship and their seventh in the last nine years. Since 2010, St. Viator has won a regional every year except for 2013 and 2015.
"I'm just trying to get on base so that we can move runners around," Kmet said of his role as the leadoff hitter. "And that worked out pretty well today."
Kmet was 2-for-4 on the day, a big part of a 7-hit effort by the Lions.
"Casey is doing great (in the leadoff spot)," Manno said. "I just feel he's really tough to pitch to. He's got good speed and I think he kind of sets the table for us. It's kind of unconventional (to change the lineup this late in the season), but it seems to be working for us."
Kmet changed spots with center fielder Conor Warner, who went from leadoff to the cleanup spot. In that big third inning, Warner did what he is supposed to do in his new spot and he drove in a run with a single.
Kevin Wilhite, Michael Purk (double) and James Gorman (triple) also drove in runs for St. Viator in the third inning.
The big third inning was St. Viator's response to a big second inning by Palatine. The Pirates, who finished with a 20-15 record despite only two seniors (Jake Anderson and Josh Stitt) seeing major playing time for most of the season, rolled up 4 runs in the second inning to take a 4-2 lead through two innings.
"Our kids laid out all over the park and did what we needed to do to keep things close," Palatine coach Paul Belo said. "We had a big inning, big hits in opportune moments. But we couldn't sustain it. We got men on base every inning but couldn't get the really big hits that they had."
In the second inning, Palatine came up with 4 big hits and had runs driven in by Luke Seiffert, Luka Popovic, and Stitt.
Popovic's RBI came off a big double. He went 2-for-3 on the day.
"It's a tough way to go down because we fought so hard all season and today," Popovic said. "We were in the game the whole time and we always had the confidence to win. It was just a matter of executing our hits."
Palatine didn't get many opportunities to score after the second inning. The Pirates got 5 more hits, but scored just once on a wild pitch in the seventh inning.
St. Viator starter Owen Hickey, who went six full innings and finished with 6 strikeouts, settled down over the middle innings and kept Palatine off the scoreboard.
"We had a couple of early bad plays, myself included," Hickey said. "I think we all kind of lost focus (in the second inning). But the way we bounced back from adversity was really good. My teammates picked me up when I was down with a really big inning. It was great to be supported like that."