DOWNERS GROVE – Home runs wow the crowds, but small plays can make the difference in a baseball game.
Connor Kopach was a master of making the small, but significant, play.
Perhaps nothing says more about the type of player the recently-graduated Downers Grove North shortstop was than a seemingly small play during the Trojans’ sectional championship game against Neuqua Valley.
Standing on second base after a single and a walk behind him, a low pitch was short-hopped to home plate. Kopach didn’t hesitate taking third even though the ball landed just a few feet from the catcher. He came around to score on a sacrifice fly. He had a similar play later in the game and had two like it in North’s regional championship win.
“He did all the little things that made an impact,” North coach Chad Isaacson said.
Being a heady player was only part of what made Kopach such a dominant player. Part of it was the work he put in to become a consistent hitter this season: the plyometric exercises, the weightlifting sessions in the offseason, working with hitting instructor Steve Hayward at Strikes Baseball Academy in Broadview. Another part of was his steady defensive play at shortstop, and yet another part was the way in which he led the Trojans to one of their better seasons in recent memory.
With the way he played and the way he carried himself, Kopach solidified himself as a team leader. He let his teammates handle the vocal duties while he led by his actions.
“Troy [Southard] and James [Sheldon] were the ones that usually got on people,” Kopach said. “I’m not much of a talker, so I tried to show leadership by working on the field.”
By the time his senior season rolled around, Kopach was well-versed in what it took to get it done on the field. He started his career as a 5-year-old in T-ball, and he been playing ever since. He upped the ante when he started playing travel ball when he was 11. The next phase will start soon, as he heads to Southern Illinois to continue his career. Isaacson will be sad to see him go, and so too will some opposing coaches.
“He was good last year, but he took another step this season and I think he was one of the best shortstops we’ve ever had here,” Isaacson said. “I can’t tell you how many compliments I got from opposing coaches about him. He worked hard and he was well-liked and respected by his teammates and our opponents.”
Meet the 2013 All-Area South team:
School: Hinsdale Central
A transfer from St. Laurence, Botsoe stepped right into the Red Devils' lineup and had a major impact. The speedy center fielder led Central's regulars with a .444 batting average, 25 runs scored and 11 extra-base hits (seven doubles, four triples), and he also had 11 stolen bases. A Louisville recruit, Botsoe committed just two errors.
School: Downers Grove South
One of the hardest throwers and most fearsome pitchers in the state, Burdi won four games and struck out 57 on the mound, but he was even better in the batter's box. The University of Iowa recruit and West Suburban Gold all-conference selection powered a potent Mustang offense with a .418 batting average, three home runs and 31 RBIs.
Coppin switched from catcher to shortstop toward the end of the season but remained the Lions' most productive hitter all spring. The Interstate Eight all-conference selection led the team with a .378 average, 24 RBIs and 20 walks, and was among the team leaders in runs scored (29) and stolen bases (13).
Already committed to the University of Michigan, Donovan led the Sentinels in almost every significant offensive category: average (.488), RBIs (40), home runs (four), triples (seven) and stolen bases (28). The slick-fielding and strong-armed shortstop was named Interstate Eight all-conference.
School: Downers Grove North
A productive leadoff hitter, steady fielder and quiet leader, Kopach was a linchpin of North's success this season. He led the Trojans in hits (45), batting average (.441), runs (41), walks (18) and stolen bases (15), and tied for the team lead with three home runs. The Southern Illinois-bound shortstop also earned a West Suburban Silver all-conference selection.
The Louisiana State recruit contributed both on the mound and at the plate for the Indians. As the ace of the pitching staff, Latz struck out 78 batters in just 44-2/3 innings of work, compiling a 1.88 ERA. Offensively, he hit .411 with seven doubles, two home runs, 21 RBIs and 25 runs scored. He was named to the all-state team.
School: Downers Grove South
The University of the Pacific recruit produced consistently all spring, both with the bat and as a pitcher. At the plate, he finished with a .415 average, a .627 slugging percentage, four home runs and 43 RBIs. He picked up five wins on the mound as he earned West Suburban Gold all-conference honors.
Named MVP in the East Suburban Catholic Conference, McInerney hit .381 with eight home runs and 38 RBIs. He went 6-1 on the mound and led the Redwings to a share of the ESCC title. The all-state pick will continue his career at the University of Illinois.
School: Downers Grove North
The West Suburban Silver all-conference selection took a big step forward in his senior season. O'Malley finished with a 7-2 record and 1.88 ERA with five complete games, two of which came in the playoffs, including a sectional semifinal win over Downers Grove South.
Already committed to Louisiana State, this catcher/third baseman was named all-state and South Suburban Blue Conference Player of the Year. The left-handed hitter batted .398 with nine doubles and three home runs and also contributed 34 runs scored and 24 RBIs. In addition, he stole 11 bases, walked 21 times and had just nine strikeouts in 109 plate appearances.
After a tough-luck junior season on the mound, Pietrzak got the results he wanted this spring. The Sentinels' leader in innings pitched (49.0), he struck out 54 batters and went 7-1 with a 1.22 ERA. The Interstate Eight all-conference selection batted .284 with 26 RBIs, 24 runs and 17 stolen bases.
School: Hinsdale South
Rizzo played sparingly as a junior, but stepped up to fill a major role this spring as the Hornets defended their West Suburban Gold conference title. Rizzo played nearly flawless at first base but was even more impressive as South's No. 1 conference starting pitcher. A vocal leader, Rizzo earned WSG all-conference honors this spring.
Mired in a tough slump much of 2012, Sramek turned it around his senior year. Bound for the University of Wisconsin-Parkside, the rangy center fielder led Bolingbrook's regulars with a .292 average, 17 RBIs, 20 runs, eight doubles and three home runs and was named SouthWest Suburban Blue all-conference.
With a huge sweeping curve ball and competitive edge on the mound, the lefty ace mowed 'em down all year. The Interstate Eight all-conference pick finished the year 7-1 on the mound with an ERA (0.96) and WHIP (0.88) both under one while striking out 87 in 65.2 innings. He earned the win in the state championship game, surrendering just four hits and an unearned run over five innings.
Ryan Van Volkenburg
A four-year varsity player for the Lions, Van Volkenburg was a key piece to Lisle's run to the state title this season. At the plate, the Interstate Eight all-conference pick hit .360 with 34 runs scored, 22 RBIs, two homers and 17 stolen bases. On the mound, he went 6-1, which included the Lions' 2-1 win over Teutopolis in the state semifinal game.
Benet: Joe Boyle, Joe Giuffre, Connor Hickey, Kevin Jendra, Chris Whelan
Bolingbrook: Brad Elmore, Scott Foltz, Chandler Piekarski, Mario Samuel, Steve Waldrop
Downers Grove North: Jack Goergen, David Henson, Joe Provenzano, James Sheldon, Troy Southard, Matt Zabloudil
Downers Grove South: Nick Alfini, Joe Becht, Brian Glowicki, Zach Taylor, Matt Zinnecker
Hinsdale Central: Matt Muellner, Bobby Skogsbergh, Jacob White
Hinsdale South: Don Buonavolanto, DJ Deolitsis, Mike Marrera
Lemont: Cody Caballero, Jake Terrazas, Mike Wisz
Lisle: Brian Czyl, Adam Grego, Cliff Krause
Westmont: Robert Kokoszka, Ryan Schlicher