LAKE FOREST — Lake Forest’s baseball team got on a plane and headed south over spring break, hoping for warmer temperatures and better playing conditions.
The Scouts found what they were looking for in Myrtle Beach, S.C., even if the team didn’t spend much time at the beach or in the water.
“The ocean was frozen. We stayed in the hot tub indoors,” senior infielder Jack Kauss said.
Familiar with icy conditions after a winter in the Midwest, Lake Forest got away so it could prepare for the 2014 baseball season. And it accomplished what it set out to do. In four games over four days from March 23-26, the Scouts went 3-1, winning the last three games by a combined score of 26-4.
Coach Ray Del Fava said the four games, played at the Ripken Experience in Myrtle Beach, served as spring training for his team.
“Every new year you bring in new personalities and players. It was a great chance for us to get away together,” Del Fava said. “Overall, playing-wise and camaraderie-wise, it was a good trip.”
Playing on the turf fields provided optimum conditions for baseball. With no concerns about field conditions (one game was played in 70-degree weather), the Scouts were able to experiment with different lineups before the North Suburban Conference schedule begins April 8 against Lake Zurich.
Lake Forest has a core group of seniors who will likely play every day: infielder/pitcher J.R. Reimer (a Northwestern commit), outfielder/pitcher Michael Szeszol, Kauss and middle infielder Luke Johnson. Pitcher David Keaton, a 6-foot-6 left hander, anchors the rotation. In the Scouts’ 4-0 win over Germantown Academy (Pa.) on March 24, Keaton allowed one hit and struck out 10 over six innings.
Johnson, a 5-11, 175-pound Bucknell commit, is the team’s best all-around player, a gap hitter with exceptional defensive range. An offseason back injury sidelined him in South Carolina. Del Fava said the conference opener is the target date for his return.
“He’s a key member of our team. There’s not a kid I’ve seen who has worked harder to get better,” Del Fava said.
The Scouts’ seniors are augmented by a deep junior class, many of whom saw significant playing time over spring break. That group includes catcher George Karkazis, infielders Cal Kropke and Charlie Asma, first baseman Matt Gruenes and outfielder Charlie Sullivan.
Kauss said the deep roster of juniors, a group that won a conference title as sophomores, is a positive for the team’s long-term health.
“There’s a lot of tough competition at the positions,” Kauss said. “They are so good, they are not afraid to take a senior spot and that helps us practice harder and work harder.”
On Friday, Lake Forest is scheduled to host Carmel in its first game in Illinois. After their trip south — during which one of the games was played in 40-degree weather — the Scouts are ready for baseball, even if it’s wet and chilly.
“Playing in Chicago conditions, we succeeded there,” Del Fava said.