Cats Go Down Swinging During Heated Highland Park Match-Up


Jack Birmingham

On the mound, Joey Frega, senior, practices his pitching in preparation for the next inning in the game against Highland Park on Friday, May 20, 2022.

On Friday, May 20, 2022, the Libertyville High School Wildcats’ varsity baseball team competed against the Highland Park Giants in the final regular season home game of the year. The game was a fierce, hard-fought competition on both sides, and despite a final box score that saw the Giants take the victory, 9-6, the Wildcats went down fighting and put up a valiant performance that was truly exciting to watch. Despite the Giants pulling away as the game progressed, the Wildcats nearly came back during the seventh and final inning.
The first inning saw great plays on both sides. Joey Frega, a senior and a pitcher for the Wildcats, started on the mound, and made quick work of striking out the Giants’ first batter. Then, senior Brenden Max, serving as an outfielder, made a brilliant catch in center field to secure a second out against the Giants. The final play of the top of the first inning saw senior Michael Kelly, an infielder, retrieve a ground ball and throw to fellow infielder and senior Andrew Sellers to secure the third out of the first half of the game’s opening inning. Despite good plays from the infield and outfield alike, however, the Giants managed to secure a single run, giving them a one-run lead heading into the bottom of the first.

The Wildcats, teeming with energy and confidence, stepped up to the plate to begin the bottom of the first. Following two outs, senior and outfielder Ryan Thrawl was hit by a pitch, and made it to first base. Soon after, Thrawl stole second, before one last strike-out by the Wildcats. As quickly as it began, the first inning had come to a close, and the second inning kicked off. 

This time around, the Wildcats held back the Giants, preventing them from scoring any runs. Riding the energy from the dugout, they scored their first run of the game, tying up the score and putting the Wildcats on the board at last. It was the moments like these that showed that, even in defeat, the Wildcats are a force to be reckoned with. Despite the loss, junior and infielder Benjamin “Hutch” Hutchings spoke highly of his teammates. “It was a tough game and a tough battle from inning one to inning seven,” Hutchings said. “I thought the boys battled a little bit, but just came up too short in the end. I saw some good things, and I saw some things that we can work on; there’s always stuff you can work on, always things you can get better on.”

Emboldened by their second-inning success, the Wildcats made quick work of powering through the top of the third inning. With catches by Max and senior and outfielder Connor Dickson, accompanied by a tag at first base by Kelly, the Giants secured only one run during the third inning, and despite keeping the Wildcats scoreless during their turn at bat, it seemed that all the momentum was on the Cats’ side for the fourth inning.

Unfortunately, the fourth inning was where things, for a split second, fell apart for the Wildcats. The Giants went on a scoring streak, managing six runs before being shut down by the Wildcats. With the Wildcats once again going scoreless, this time in the bottom of the fourth, the Giants had gained a seven-point lead that it seemed would haunt the home team for the rest of the game. 

Still, Libertyville’s home team never lost hope, and it wasn’t just players who spoke highly of their strengths throughout the game. Assistant Coach and Pitching Coach Dan Gooris, who has served in this position for sixteen years, had a positive perspective on the team as a whole. “We’ve accomplished a lot of our goals. We still have a few left, but our kids work hard.” said Gooris. “We didn’t give up at the end there, which was nice to see our kids kind of battle until the last hour to put a little pressure on them.” 

Head coach Matt Thompson, who has been with the program as a coach for twenty years, and head coach for six, had his own views on the game. “I think that pitching-wise, we needed to throw more strikes, we needed to get ahead of the hitters instead of falling behind.” Thompson said. “I liked that our hitters battled all the way and felt like we could come back and win the game still at the end.”

Both the fifth and sixth innings passed somewhat uneventfully. With grit and perseverance on both sides, the game entered the seventh and final inning with both teams in the midst of a two-inning drought. At bat first was the Giants, who broke their slump with a run, but were successfully held back from passing nine by the Wildcats. Then it was the Wildcats’ turn. Determined to make the final inning memorable, the Wildcats overcame their slump as well, scoring five runs to bring the score to 9-6. While it was here that the home team ran out of gas, they made it clear at the end that they are a force to be reckoned with, and showed Highland Park, a team that they may very well face later on, that they don’t stop fighting until the very last out.