ALGONQUIN – Mark Lonigro knows his team can be competitive in the Gold Bracket of the McHenry County Youth Sports Association Summer International Championships, but he needs his players on the Lake in the Hills Thunder baseball team to start believing in themselves.
“Coming in, no one expected us to be in this bracket, and we proved them wrong,” said Jack Schneider, who started Wednesday’s game against the Illinois Elite on the mound for the Thunder. “Now we need to come together and get a win for us.”
The Thunder entered as a young team of 14-year-olds playing in the 15U division and have used that underdog mentality to their advantage. They accomplished one of their main goals by advancing out of pool play to the Gold Bracket.
Of the seven host teams, the Thunder are the only one to advance to the Gold Bracket after going 2-3 in pool play.
On Wednesday, the Thunder lost to the Elite in the first round of bracket play, 7-2, at Jacobs High School. The Thunder will face Mickey’s Sleds and More at 11 a.m. Thursday at Lippold Park.
The Elite added to a two-run lead by scoring three more in the third inning, but the Thunder battled back when Carlos Lopez smacked a double off the fence in right field to get things going in their half of the third. They had runners on second and third, both of whom came around to score on two wild pitches that cut the deficit to 5-2.
It didn’t last long, however, as the Thunder’s bats went quiet and the Elite tacked on single runs in the fifth and sixth innings to seal the victory.
“It feels great to [be in the Gold Bracket], but I had bigger aspirations to win this ballgame,” Lonigro said. “It’s disappointing because this team is breaking up after guys have been playing together for years. Again, it’s great that we’re here, but that’s short of the goal. We want to win a game in this bracket.”
After the loss, the team huddled around Lonigro just behind the first base dugout and listened as he spoke about his experiences during his playing days. He wanted his team to learn from his mistakes. As a player, Lonigro didn’t always have the best approach to games, and it cost him.
It still bothers him now and he stressed to his team to have fun during each game and to not be afraid no matter the situation and to play each game with the right attitude.
“Baseball is all about that mental attitude, and you have to play with a positive attitude,” Lonigro said. “The heart and physical side can only take you so far but the head has to be in the game. It’s got to be there.
“It’s all about confidence, and everyone is carrying a little too much stress right now,” he continued, “and they’re missing the point of playing as a team. If they play like when they were kids and have fun tomorrow, we’ll fix this ship.”