The last time the Ramblers entered the postseason with a losing record they won a regional title.
While the program’s streak of consecutive seasons with 20-plus wins will end at three, there’s good reason to believe Loyola (13-15) can capture its second Class 4A regional title in a row when it opens the state tournament Wednesday.
The No. 4 seed at their own sectional, the Ramblers play in the regional semifinals at Niles North against the host Vikings.
Loyola lost eight of its final 10 games of the regular season, six of them by two runs or less. Four of those defeats came to Mount Carmel and St. Laurence in the Catholic Blue, arguably the best conference in the state.
“At times, we play pretty darn well and well enough to win,” Loyola head coach Nick Bridich said.
A confidence-booster came Saturday when the Ramblers beat Evanston 5-4 on junior Colin Summerhill’s game-winning hit in the bottom of the seventh inning to snap the team’s six-game losing streak. Nearly one year ago on the same field, they beat the Wildkits 9-3 to win the program’s first sectional title since 2008.
“We found ourselves again,” Loyola senior and captain Patrick Neenan (pictured above) said. “We saw how we can grind through a pressure situation and pull through. If we do our thing, we can make a nice run in the playoffs.”
Senior outfielder Jake Novak and Summerhill, a catcher, have been two of the team’s most dependable offensive players all season, each getting at least one hit in 20 of 28 games.
Novak is batting .356 with a team-high 1.035 OPS. He leads Loyola in home runs (3) and RBIs (40). Summerhill is hitting .322 with an on-base percentage of .411. He’s first on the team with 13 doubles and tied for second with 23 RBIs.
“Colin’s a great ball-striker, and Jake is a tough out,” Bridich said. “We’ve been able to count on both of them all year.”
Senior left-hander Joe McKermitt, junior right-hander Michael Ellingsen and junior right-hander Thomas Schafer own 22 of the team’s 28 starts, logging a combined 102 2/3 innings. Senior right-hander Colin Gillespie is Loyola’s most popular reliever, having pitched 22 2/3 innings in 15 appearances.
“It’s been tough, but there are no excuses,” Bridich said. “We do our best to try and solve problems.”
Photo credit: Margo Grogan/Sports Depiction