Gone is the lineup filled from top to bottom with Division-I recruits.
But, for Br. Rice senior catcher Jack Payton and his teammates, the Crusaders are up to the challenge of creating their own team identity—one that’s more gritty.
That newfound style was on display on July 10, when Br. Rice outslugged St. Laurence 13-8 in the Richards regional championship to advance to the summer state tournament.
“Every win for this upcoming season is going to be a gritty win,” Payton said. “There won’t be easy wins. We’ll have to fight. We don’t have those big-name guys like [Kendall Pettis] and [Benji Brokemond] to help us. We’ll keep fighting.”
Br. Rice played Buffalo Grove on July 15, after press time, at North Central College in Naperville to open the summer state finals, which run July 15-18.
The semifinals are July 17 at DuPage Medical Group Field in Joliet, and the state championship will be July 18 at North Central.
Eight teams compete at state in a double-elimination format.
In helping clinch the state berth, Payton (Lousville) finished with a double, 2 RBI, a walk and was hit by a pitch 3 times in the regional championship.
With St. Laurence threatening with 2 runners on in the seventh, Payton ended the game in style, gunning a runner down at second on an attempted steal.
“[Pitcher Eddie McGunn] gave me a chance to throw him out,” Payton said. “It was a good opportunity. With runners at first and third, he probably didn’t think I’d throw, but you take the opportunity. We’ll take it.”
Working out of a 5-2 hole in the third, Br. Rice strung together a crazy bottom half of the inning, sending 15 batters to the plate.
The Crusaders ripped 7 hits, drew 2 walks and capitalized on 3 St. Laurence errors on the way to a 10-run inning.
Junior Luke Lawrence blooped a single to shallow left as part of the explosion. He finished with 2 hits and 3 RBI.
Seeing time at catcher and first base during regional play, Lawrence also put together a solid week at the plate. He is part of a junior class for which Coach Sean McBride has high hopes.
“We love this sophomore class going into their junior year,” McBride said. “It’s a family feel, where they stick together and grind you out.”
As a member of the young class that is expected to fill some big shoes, Lawrence is ready to go.
“It’s summer, but this is what it’s all about, working hard and getting the win,” Lawrence said. “We did lose those seniors, but the most important thing with this group is we’re really tight. We’re all hard workers, and we band together.”
Leading the Crusaders were Nate Mosqueda (3 hits, 2 runs), Beau Polickey (3 hits, 2 RBI), Dylan Robertson (2 RBI) and Nick Daugherty (3 runs, 2 hits).
A young unheralded Br. Rice pitching staff held St. Laurence to 3 runs over the final 4 innings. Dylan Warda started the game and was relieved by Brendan McQuillan (1.2 scoreless innings), Daugherty, Nate Sobek and McGunn.
For the Vikings, Jason Krol, Kevin McCormick (2 runs) and Edwin Alvarez knocked in 2 runs apiece. Matt Zahora (solo HR) and Alex Gasbarro finished with a RBI apiece.
Alvarez was a key player off the bench for the Class 3A runner-up Vikings this spring. Given a chance to start and be a fixture in the lineup in the summer, Alvarez intended to make the most of it.
“I want to play and appreciate the opportunities I get. It’s tough [sitting], but whatever it takes to help the team,” Alvarez said. “You find out how the team’s going to be by working with them every single day and developing together.”
While the Vikings lose some big names, notably Lawless Award winner Matt McCormick (West Virginia), a strong core is expected back next spring, especially a deep pitching staff.
“I feel like we can pick up where we left off,” Alvarez said. “We’ve got a good team here with a lot of talent. We can go back to state.”
St. Laurence Coach Pete Lotus said he’s excited to see what spring 2020 will bring.
“A lot of our guys are two-year varsity players who have been playing since their sophomore year,” Lotus said. “With experience, we feel more prepared. The experience we have coming back, especially on the mound with guys who threw a lot of innings, we feel like we can add a few pieces.”