Baseball: Kenosha Indians 16s take best shot on national stage
Updated: July 12, 2012 5:43PM
MUNDELEIN — After advancing to Gold-round play at the University of Louisville National Championship Tournament, the Kenosha Indians 16U travel team was bounced in the quarterfinals by the powerful Schaumburg Seminoles.
The tourney ran from July 5 through Sunday in Kentucky.
Kenosha, seeded eighth among 32 teams in the Gold bracket, was topped by No. 1-seeded Schaumburg 7-1.
“They’re one of the top teams in the country, and we gave it our best shot,” said Indians head coach Kevin Kristan. “Afterward, I told the team how proud I was. We showed we belong in a top national tourney.”
The Indians reached the quarters with a 6-5 win over Kentucky Baseball Club White in come-from-behind fashion on Saturday. Trailing 5-1 after five innings, Kenosha rallied with two runs in the seventh inning to make it 5-3, followed by a three-spot in the bottom of the seventh to snag the win.
Gehrig Parker, a junior-to-be at Maine South High School, delivered a walk-off single on a 3-and-2 pitch with two outs, after Matt Skarzynski (Carmel Catholic, Class of 2014) tied the score at 5-5 on an RBI single of his own. Dominic Cuevas, a junior-to-be at Warren, began the comeback with an RBI single for the first run of the frame; Billy Winegard (Carmel, Class of ’14) had a key, two-out hit in the rally as well.
“The kids were unbelievable — they had a swagger about them that we’d come back to win,” Kristan said. “They’re resilient, and they play to win every game.”
Kenosha opened tourney play with a 10-0 victory over the Oakland (Mich.) Raiders on July 5. Pitcher Danny Jackson (Lakes High School, Class of ’13) earned the win.
“He pitches to contact and doesn’t walk many people,” Kristan said. “He’s a control-type pitcher, and he was ‘on’ that day. He has a fastball that tails inside to righties, and also a curve and a change-up.”
The Indians had a rough go in their next outing, later that day, allowing eight unearned runs — on seven errors — in an 8-5 loss to 16U Ohio Elite.
“I pulled the kids in afterward, and said, ‘I want to see how you respond,’ ” Kristan recalled. “Good teams respond, and we did.”
The result was a 6-3 win over USAthletic Select (Indianapolis) the morning of July 6.
“Their pitcher threw 87-88 (mph), and we were able to beat them,” Kristan said. “We played small ball — a clutch hit here or there.”
Kenosha broke a 2-2 deadlock with four runs in the fifth. Keys to the rally were a two-run triple by Nick Grandolfo (Carmel, Class of ’14), an RBI double by Hunter VanWagner (Libertyville, Class of ’14), and an RBI single from Ian Kristan (Carmel, Class of ’14), the coach’s son.
Starting pitcher Ryan Vukovich, a Maine South junior-to-be, allowed two runs in three innings, and classmate Bobby Paddock (3 innings, run) followed. Connor Simpson (Libertyville, Class of ’14) pitched one inning to notch the save.
Next up was the Motor City Hit Dogs (Detroit), who had the misfortune of facing Indians hurler Parker, a left-handed knuckleball artist. Pitching in 105-degree heat, Parker threw a complete game, allowing a run on four hits.
“It was an unbelievable performance, and we needed it,” coach Kristan said. “It saved our staff for the rest of the tourney, so his performance turned out to be key for us to advance.”
Kristan, the player, had two hits and two RBIs in the win, and Simpson delivered a two-run triple. Jackson and VanWagner each banged out RBI doubles.
“I think we opened some eyes in Louisville,” coach Kristan said. “People are taking notice that our program is on the rise.”
Back-to-back: Prior to the Louisville event, the Indians posted back-to-back tournament championships, winning both the Kenosha Classic and the Northern Illinois University Invitational.
The Kenosha Classic was held June 14-17, and the invite at NIU took place June 21-24.
And though the Indians racked up 115 runs in 10 tourney games overall, Kristan said the team’s success was not all about the offense.
“It’s really about all elements of the game working together — offense, defense, pitching and chemistry,” he said.
In the championship game of the NIU Invitational, a nine-run explosion in the fourth inning keyed a 10-0 win — in five innings — over Hoosier North. Jackson earned the win, pitching five shutout innings in a complete-game performance.
Hitting-wise, the Indians were sparked by Ian Kristan and Matt Reed (Libertyville, Class of ’14), who combined for five hits and three RBIs. The defense featured solid play from shortstops Cuevas and Carmel junior-to-be Andy Kantor, second basemen Winegard and VanWagner, and third basemen Paddock and Ben Dinter (Warren, Class of ’14).
The Indians finished 4-0 in pool play, topping the Top Tier Nationals 12-2, beating the GNP Sun Devils 11-3, nipping Loyola Gold 5-3 and rolling the Rockford Travelers 10-3.
In the Kenosha Classic, the Indians continued to pile up runs, scoring in every inning en route to a 16-5 win over the Grayslake Nighthawks in the title game.
The championship-game MVP, voted on by the Grayslake Nighthawks, was winning pitcher Dalton Wright (Carmel, Class of ’14). Vukovich (3 hits, 4 RBIs) led the offense.
The Indians’ roster also includes Warren junior-to-be Wes Gordon. Coach Kristan is assisted by Tom Reed and Todd Vukovich.
Kenosha will compete in the Top Collegiate Prospect Invitational, in Bloomington, which begins Thursday and runs through Sunday.