Naperville Central carries expectations into postseason

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After watching his team Tuesday fall into an early 6-1 deficit to West Chicago, only to eventually slug their way to a 10-8 victory, Naperville Central coach Mike Stock was matter of fact afterward.

“We haven’t done anything easy this year,” he said.

Indeed, en route to winning their first DuPage Valley Conference title since 2010 after finishing second to Wheaton North the previous two years, the Redhawks have worked hard for everything this year and the upcoming postseason should be no different.

Expectations are high that second-seeded Naperville Central can make a run similar to the one the Redhawks made last year in winning the Class 4A Romeoville Sectional. They garnered a top-two sectional seed for the second time in four years.

But before Naperville Central can possibly worry about making plans to play next week in the Neuqua Valley Sectional, the Redhawks have to take care of business at home, with a fourth meeting this year against crosstown rival Naperville North possibly waiting in six days.

Naperville Central will open the playoffs on Wednesday against either 19th-seeded West Aurora or 15th-seeded Marmion. The Redhawks would advance to their own regional final against either seventh-seeded Naperville North or 10th-seeded Plainfield North on Saturday.

Earlier this month, Naperville North secured a season series win over Naperville North for the fourth straight year by taking two of three. Stock is happy how his team approached that series.

“This wasn’t (about) Naperville North — it was just second-or-third-place team in the conference and we didn’t get too involved in the North-Central thing, which can be a distraction,” Stock said after the Redhawks took the first game of the series on May 8. “And it really wasn’t because it hasn’t been so far.”

Salvaging the third game of the series with the Redhawks behind a complete-game from lefty Rob Leonard on May 10, the Huskies know they can’t look ahead to a potential fourth meeting with their crosstown rivals.

“That’s (not on our minds). We don’t care about that,” Naperville North coach Carl Hunckler said. “You know, you got to get by your first one. That’s always a tough (game to win). I mean, Plainfield North, there’s a team that four years in a row has won 30 games. I know they lost their top two pitchers this year, but they’re still a solid program.”

Meanwhile, the other two teams in the Naperville area to grab at least a share of their respective conference titles — Benet and Neuqua Valley — enter the postseason on good notes, as well.

Fresh off claiming a share of its first East Suburban Catholic Conference title since 2006, Benet earned the second seed in the Class 3A Nazareth

Sectional and will open Wednesday against either 18th-seeded Wells or 15th-seeded Payton.

A meeting with host Clemente in a regional final could be in the offing for the Redwings, who have moved down a class due to the IHSA waiver on past regional victories.

“If you’re going to win a championship, you got to win games. So I’d rather do that, whether it’s the hard way or easy way or whatever,” Benet coach Scott Lawler said. “We got to win games. So sometimes those seeds don’t mean that much.”

Third-seeded Neuqua Valley will host a sectional for the second time in three years, and there’s little doubt that Robin Renner’s Wildcats want to still be playing next week when the sectional convenes.

But for the Wildcats — who drew a third seed within the sectional for the third straight year and had a nine-game winning streak snapped Wednesday at Lockport — the immediate focus is returning to the scene of the crime in Romeoville.

Last year, Neuqua saw their 30-win campaign end with a loss in the semifinal of the Class 4A Romeoville Sectional to upstart Metea Valley. This year, the Wildcats open regional play on Wednesday against either 17th-seeded host Romeoville or 14th-seeded Oswego East.

If seeds hold, the Wildcats would meet sixth-seeded Wheaton Warrenville South on Saturday for the right to get to the sectional.

“It doesn’t matter. You got to beat (good people). I’m going to have to beat Downers Grove South or Naperville Central or Hinsdale South or Downers Grove North or Naperville North or Wheaton South,” Renner said of the Wildcats’ draw. “We’re going to have to beat them somewhere along the line.”

The other two District 204 schools, Waubonsie Valley and Metea Valley, drew the eighth and 12th seeds, respectively, and the Warriors could get a date with top-seeded Downers Grove South on Saturday if they beat host Hinsdale Central on Thursday.

“Every game for us has to be we’re preparing to win a regional,” Waubonsie Valley coach Dan Fezzuoglio said. “The people we’re playing (down the stretch) are the people we could see … That type of caliber. Anything can happen, depending on matchups, and that’s just how we got to look at it.”

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