In spite of winning at least 23 games the past six seasons and topping 30 wins twice, Chicago Christian isn’t considered by most an elite baseball program.
Because in many instances, our minds are programed to think bigger is always better.
Chicago Christian has approximately 360 students, 180 of whom are boys. Comparatively, Sandburg has nearly 10 times that amount. Other coed private schools, such as Providence and Marist, exceed that number by four or five times. Even all-boys private schools Brother Rice, Mount Carmel, St. Laurence and St. Rita dwarf Chicago Christian in regard to enrollment.
The larger the pool of students from which to choose, the more likely a team is to achieve success. Or so the story goes.
However, what we learned, again, Wednesday is that bigger doesn’t always equate to better.
Please try not to take this the wrong way, Knights fans, but as far as man-for-man talent goes, your team, without four starters, had no business being on the same field with Mount Carmel in their Phil Lawler Classic summer baseball tournament regional semifinal.
The Caravan, the 2013 Class 4A state champion, has three players committed to play Division I college baseball: Ako Thomas (Michigan), Scott Kapers (Valparaiso) and Josh Stowers (Louisville). More likely will follow in the coming months.
Based on the playoff seeds, however, you may be asking how Mount Carmel could be the underdog. Chicago Christian is the No. 1 seed, the Caravan No. 4. Here’s the thing about the summer playoff seedings: They’re based strictly on the number of wins during the summer regular season. Chicago Christian had more wins (12) than any other team in the Richards Regional. Many teams didn’t even play 12 games. Thus, the Knights received the No. 1 seed.
Chicago Christian arrived to Wednesday’s game with 12 players. Mount Carmel, on the other hand, had pretty much a full contingent, including studs Kapers, Thomas, Stowers, Malik Carpenter and A.J. Lewis.
Reputation is one thing; performance is another. Chicago Christian beat Mount Carmel 4-2.
In other words, David beat Goliath.
“I told the guys Monday I expected to play on Thursday,” Chicago Christian coach Eric Brauer said. “We’re going to show up with whoever we have and compete.”
A bold statement, for sure, considering Chicago Christian hadn’t won a single summer playoff game in Brauer’s previous six seasons.
Not this season. The Knights knocked off Reavis, Stagg and Mount Carmel in succession to advance to Thursday’s Richards Regional final against St. Laurence.
“This is big,” Brauer said of beating Mount Carmel. “The guys really stepped up.”
Brauer pieced together four pitchers to eliminate the Caravan. John VanderWall started and was followed by Jack DeVries, Trevor Wolterink and Christian Bulhuis.
The Caravan scored two runs in the top of the first inning, likely leading many in the sparse crowd to think “slaughter rule.” The Knights, though, countered with four runs in their half of the first.
That was it for the scoring.
Bulhuis entered in the sixth inning and slammed the door, striking out two of the final three batters.
“It’s awesome,” said Bulhuis, also the quarterback on the Knights football team. “It’s not like we were playing their ‘B’ team or anything. To beat a team that’s bigger than us and have so many guys that will play at the next level is really special. This shows we have a lot of kids that can play.”
Not only was Chicago Christian without four starters off playing travel ball, three of them double up as pitchers.
Wednesday’s piecemeal pitching approach, along with timely hitting and solid defense, was enough to overcome Mount Carmel.
“We were just working the outside corner with some heat and throwing some nice breaking balls,” Chicago Christian catcher Brian Finger said. “This is a big win for us. We’re not going to back down to anyone. We showed them what we’re made of.”
You certainly did.