Matt McCormick clearly remembered the loss two years ago in the Class 4A state semifinals.
St. Laurence had been rolling only to see its state title aspirations go up in smoke with one bad game.
So as a senior with a chance to exorcise some state semifinal demons, McCormick and the Vikings did not waste the opportunity.
Scoring every inning, St. Laurence defeated Waterloo 8-2 on June 7 in a Class 3A state semifinal at DuPage Medical Group Field in Joliet.
“We were a lot more relaxed [this year]. We were having more fun,” McCormick said. “We were joking around before the game. We tried to treat it like any other game and not put too much pressure on ourselves.”
St. Laurence advanced to play Montini in the Class 3A title game on June 8, the first championship game appearance in program history.
In the Waterloo victory, McCormick and sophomore Vito Valincius knocked in 2 runs each for the Vikings. Matt Dornbos, Luke Montgomery and Jake Vera scored 2 runs apiece.
Junior Matt Zahora (9-0) gutted his way through 5.1 innings, allowing 2 runs on 3 hits, 7 walks, 2 hit batters and 2 strikeouts. Zahora’s start was in question up until the day before the semifinals after the junior righty turned his right ankle celebrating the team’s supersectional win on June 3 over De La Salle.
“It was a question mark that he’d go,” said St. Laurence Coach Pete Lotus. “It was a great job by our strength coach and athletic trainer to get him ready. He said he was throwing, and we were happy to have him.”
Pitching in and out of trouble, Zahora started 2 1-6-3 double plays.
“My ankle wasn’t really affecting me early,” Zahora said. “I tried not to think about it. I tried to attack the hitters. Making a big pitch and getting us out of those innings, that brings my confidence up turning those double plays.”
Valincius plated Montgomery with a hard-hit single up the middle in the bottom of the first. The sophomore slugger added another RBI single in the fourth.
“I’m trying to do my job and get the team going,” Valincius said. “It helped, especially where we scored every inning.”
Montgomery finished 3 for 4 with 2 runs scored and 3 stolen bases.
The fleet-footed junior was reinserted into the leadoff role late in the regular season and has been a terror on the basepaths for the Vikings.
“If I’m on, it gives Matt, Vito and our big hitters opportunities to score and get our offense going,” Montgomery said. “I’m trying to do my role, get on base and run.”
Dornbos, Kevin McCormick and Jason Krol finished with a RBI each. Matt McCormick, Valincius and Krol finished with 2 hits each as St. Laurence piled up 13 hits overall.
Junior Brett Buzzelli allowed a hit with a strikeout in 1.2 innings to close out the semifinal victory.
Lotus appreciated his team’s efforts all over the field.
“We played really well in all phases of the game,” Lotus said. “We were outstanding defensively turning 3 double plays. Putting runs on the board every inning, that’s something we talk about offensively: put pressure on teams, get guys on base and pass it to the next guy.”