Joining the crowd: Slow-and-steady Brookfield coming together

BROOKFIELD – A good basketball season can lead to a lot of things.

Hanging banners in the gymnasium. Huge student sections at games. Tons of media coverage. And … a bad baseball team.

That may be the case at most schools, but most schools aren’t having the year the Brookfield Warriors are enjoying.

Brookfield endured a slow start to the baseball season after reaching the district semifinals in basketball, but the Warriors are coming together at just the right time.

That was evident Tuesday as Brookfield put together a solid all-around performance to beat LaBrae, 7-3, in a Division III sectional semifinal.

The slow progression is what Warriors coach Bob Trudo was expecting when he devised a schedule loaded with upper-echelon schools. He just wishes the team came together a little quicker.

“It took a while to get going,” Trudo said. “It kind of had me worried. I always had faith they would get it turned around. I was hoping it was sooner than later, but they did get it turned around. I think they were a little worn out, but they seem more into it now. After a while, it just started to click, and they’ve been playing pretty good ball. I knew they had it in them.”

It would be hard to blame the Warriors if they were tired. The football team finished 12-1 and played for a regional title, while the basketball team went 21-4 and beat eventual state-semifinalist LaBrae. They lost in the district semifinals on March 5.

Since a large portion of the baseball team played basketball, that didn’t leave Trudo much time to whip them into shape. He took a methodical approach, and it may be paying off at the perfect time.

Brookfield (13-7), a six seed that now plays at South Range at 4 p.m. today, received a strong pitching performance from Alex Yourchisin and came through with timely hits against the fifth-seeded Vikings (13-6). Yourchisin struck out eight and allowed three runs in a complete-game performance. R.J. Leon was 2 for 3 with a walk, a double, three runs scored and a stolen base. He scored in both the fourth and fifth innings, when the Warriors broke open a 2-2 tie with five runs off LaBrae starter Peyton Aldridge, someone who knows quite a bit about being on a successful basketball team.

“Peyton’s an athlete, so we knew he was going to bring some stuff to the table,” said Leon of facing the 6-foot-7 Aldridge. “It was 2-2 there for a while, and coach kind of got into us a little bit. We sparked a little rally, and with Alex on the mound, he’s steady Eddie, so it was smooth sailing from there.”

The Vikings didn’t help themselves very much by allowing seven walks, including two with the bases loaded. The Quinlan brothers, Jeremy and Jimmy, feasted on the pitches that did make it over the plate. Jimmy was 2 for 2 with two walks, two RBIs and a run scored. Jeremy was 3 for 4 with three RBIs, including a big two-out, two-run single in the fifth.

“He’s got cold water in his veins,” Trudo said of Jeremy. “He thrives for that moment. I call him gunslinger because he comes with his guns loaded and he just starts firing. That’s basically how he is. He’s clutch.”

LaBrae had its chances, but a few mishaps in the field and an inability to come through with men on base cost the Vikings, who could only score one run during a rally in the top of the fifth inning in which they loaded the bases with one out. They also committed two errors and just missed escaping a three-run fifth inning by the Warriors.

Brookfield put men on first and second and tried sacrificing them over, but the LaBrae first baseman charged and caught a line-drive bunt attempt. He then fired to first for a double play, yet the runner slid back into the base just as a low throw came in, and the ball kicked off his foot and to the fence. The Warriors went on to have a big inning.

“Baseball is a game of inches,” LaBrae coach Rick Aldridge said. “You’ve got to be able to steal, you’ve got to be able to bunt, you have to be disciplined and play good fundamental baseball. That’s what we’ve worked on all year, and today we just didn’t execute.”