Baseball: Libertyville blows by Buffalo Grove in regional final
It's bound to happen.
Few baseball players, if any, are able to escape it.
The dreaded slump.
"I don't think it's possible," Libertyville senior left fielder Karsen Cardona said of the idea of a baseball player being able to go a whole season with encountering a hitting slump.
Cardona himself wasn't immune.
"I was hitting the ball really well early in the season, then I went on a little slump," Cardona said. "But in baseball, you've got to be mentally strong. I've learned that. I also just kept on putting the work in, and it finally came back."
Cardona's hitting was back with a deafening roar on Monday afternoon as Libertyville hosted Buffalo Grove in a Class 4A regional final.
Cardona hit a first-inning, 3-run home run to set a muscle-flexing tone for the host Wildcats. Then he crushed a solo home run in the fourth inning for good measure to lead Libertyville to an 11-1 victory in five innings.
Libertyville, the North Suburban Conference co-champion with Mundelein, moves to 26-8 and will now host Glenbrook South, an 8-4 winner over Warren, at 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday in a sectional semifinal.
Cardona entered the game with 2 home runs on the season. He says he may have last gotten 2 home runs in a game way back in grade school.
"When everyone got home runs," Cardona said with a laugh. "It's a little harder now.
"But the coaches help us every day. We hit on the field for practice, they tell us which directions to hit, what to practice, they help every guy with what they need help with. I just give (the credit) to my coaches actually."
Cardona was part of a big hitting day for Libertyville, which rolled up a total of 9 hits on Buffalo Grove (17-12).
The Wildcats added 5 runs in the second inning. Senior catcher Gavin Bennett drilled a double that drove in one of the runs. The scoring barrage was also aided by 3 errors by the Bison.
That big inning gave Libertyville an 8-0 lead heading into the third.
"It was uncharacteristic of us. It's not the way we were playing over the last 18 games or so," Buffalo Grove coach Bill Montemayor said of the errors. "We botched a lot. It was a tough way to start and we weren't able to recover."
Buffalo Grove entered the game on a hot streak, having won 15 of its last 18 games.
"We weren't beating ourselves during those games," Montemayor said. "But give (Libertyville) credit. They are a tough team with a really tough pitcher."
Libertyville starter Connor Lockwood, who moved to 7-0 on the season, gave up only 4 hits and got out of several jams, including a no-outs, bases-loaded situation in the fourth. He let up only 1 run.
"It's such a game-changer when the team hits like we did early," said Lockwood, who will be pitching at Valparaiso next year. "It just gives me so much more confidence and I can trust my pitches more.
"And when people are on base, I don't have to worry as much about those people, because our offense was going off today."
Lockwood says that the Wildcats were playing with an extra edginess to them. Not only was a regional championship on the line, but so was some redemption.
When the current Libertyville seniors were freshmen, they remember watching from the stands as the varsity team lost in the sectional to Buffalo Grove on a walk-off home run.
The Wildcats were playing for that 2018 baseball team.
"Our team was really, really good that year, and they beat us on that walk-off to end that year, so we had to come back and get them this year," Lockwood said. "We really looked up to that team. So the fact that we could come out today and beat them means a lot."
Right fielder Connor Dickson also had a big day for Libertyville. He went 3-for-3 and scored 2 runs and drove in another.
For Buffalo Grove, Connor Thiessen scored the lone run on an error after reaching on a single. He went 2-for-3 on the day.
"For the guys, one of their focuses for today was to bring energy from start to finish and they did that," Libertyville coach Matt Thompson said. "Connor (Lockwood) set the tone early and that turns over to our offense. We're confident at the plate because we know we're going to be solid defensively and with him on the mound."