PLAINFIELD – In a small town, kids grow up playing baseball together.
They play together on summer teams and on their junior high teams.
When they get to their local high school, they know each other so well on and off the field that the familiarity becomes an asset.
In larger schools, talent arrives from various directions and from various summer teams. There often is more talent than at a smaller school, but the players have to develop their close-knit feeling a little later.
Large schools will be on the turf Friday and Saturday as the Class 3A and Class 4A state finals are played at Joliet Route 66 Stadium. The 3A semifinals Friday will feature Nazareth vs. Morton at 10 a.m. and Troy Triad vs. St. Ignatius at noon. In 4A, Lake Park will meet Huntley at 3 p.m. and Plainfield North will battle Sandburg at 5 p.m.
Third-place and championship games in each class are scheduled at corresponding times Saturday.
Although a large school, Plainfield North might have had an advantage throughout these playoffs, an advantage that began to build from the time these Tigers were mere cubs.
Seniors Gavin Doyle, who plays shortstop and bats third in the North lineup, and Brady Miller, who will start on the mound and bat fourth against Sandburg, are neighbors who have known each other since they were 3.
“We have been on the same baseball team since we were 5,” said Miller, who is an all-area quarterback and all-area basketball player while Doyle is among the top golfers in the area and also a contributor in basketball. “We definitely push ourselves.”
“We have played baseball with each other for so long that we are able to critique each other, and it doesn’t come off as offensive,” Doyle said.
But it isn’t only those two senior standouts who have been together for years.
“Cal Cangilla, Ryan Summers, Keegan Bates, Brady [Miller] and I all were together from our 8U team to 13U,” Doyle said.
Bates is another of the Tigers’ top pitchers, Cangilla is among the leading hitters and Summers is an excellent second baseman who also has contributed with the bat.
If camaraderie matters in this state tournament, coach John Darlington’s team goes in with a leg up.
“After we lost to Neuqua Valley in the sectional championship game last year, I definitely felt like we had a team this year that could make a run and go as far as the 2016 team went,” Miller said of the Tigers’ group that finished fourth in 4A.
Dillon McCarthy, an outstanding football player, was patrolling center field for North last season and opted not to play baseball this spring.
When asked whether he had a feeling this team could accomplish what it has, Doyle took out his phone and said, “Let me show you something. Here’s a text I sent Dillon after we lost last year to Neuqua – ‘We are going to state next year.’ He’s a good friend. I knew he would be pretty salty about it.”
So there was a hole to fill, and center fielder Cameron Kissel, who has been an offensive force, and first baseman Cangilla have combined to do that.
“Cam’s filled a huge role, and Cal is a great defensive first baseman,” Doyle said.
The North batting order Monday in the 7-3 supersectional victory over Brother Rice started with catcher Greg Budig. He was followed by right fielder Garrett Cook, Doyle, Miller, Kissel, Cangilla, Chris Miller, Sean Tillmon and Summers. It figures to be much the same Friday. The Tigers have their team batting average up to .345.
Miller, meanwhile, is 9-1 with a
1.47 ERA. He has allowed 40 hits and
18 walks while striking out 62 in
57 innings. “I want to help get us past this game and then we can go after the championship,” Miller said.
That’s the plan.