High-SchoolIllinois: Baseball

If anyone predicted this final four before the start of the state tournament, we'd like to see the evidence. And ask for lottery numbers.

Favorite after favorite has fallen in the Class 4A tourney, leaving an unlikely foursome of Lyons, Minooka, Oak Park-River Forest and Grant to battle it out for the state championship. None of the four were in the top 10 of the POWERADE state rankings as of last week.

It's a similar situation in Class 3A, with Nazareth Academy, Marian Catholic, La Salle-Peru and Triad left standing in the semifinals. None were ranked last week, though Nazareth Academy has been in and out of the top 10 throughout the season.

POWERADE State Baseball Rankings
  1. Lyons (26-12) — Last week: NR
  2. Oak Park-River Forest (29-9) — Last week: NR
  3. Nazareth Academy (30-9) — Last week: NR
Click for complete POWERADE state rankings.

Follow Mike Grimala on Twitter (@MGrimalaESPN).
The state playoffs are underway, and each team in this week's edition of the POWERADE state rankings has a legitimate chance to win a championship.

As always, the Class 4A bracket is brutal, with No. 1 Providence Catholic, No. 2 Mount Carmel, No. 3 Maine South, No. 4 Mundelein, No. 6 Plainfield North and No. 7 St. Laurence all still alive. In Class 3A, No. 5 Joliet Catholic is looking like the early favorite.

As we get deeper into the postseason and the Top 10 teams begin facing each other, expect some radical shifts in the rankings.

POWERADE State Baseball Rankings
  1. Providence Catholic (29-7) — Last week: No. 1
  2. Mount Carmel (31-5) — Last week: No. 3
  3. Maine South (31-5) — Last week: No. 7
Click for complete POWERADE state rankings.

Follow Mike Grimala on Twitter (MGrimalaESPN).
St. Laurence has fallen out of the No. 1 spot in this week's POWERADE state rankings, but that wasn't the biggest story to emerge last week.

St. Laurence and St. Rita brawled on the field during a game on Friday, with players and coaches from both sides involved in the fighting. Mandatory one-game suspensions have already been handed down for players who were ejected from the game, but the IHSA could take more disciplinary action once the incident is reviewed.

Obviously, any player suspensions could have a huge impact for both teams. St. Laurence is ranked No. 6 this week, while St. Rita is No. 9.

POWERADE State Baseball Rankings
  1. Providence Catholic (27-7) — Last week: No. 2
  2. Joliet Catholic (27-7) — Last week: No. 4
  3. Mount Carmel (29-5) — Last week: No. 5
Click for complete POWERADE state rankings.
For the second week in a row, St. Laurence lost a game but still remains in the No. 1 spot in the POWERADE state rankings. The Vikings were shocked by Brother Rice, but the have too many quality wins this season (including a 2-0 record against No. 2 Providence Catholic) to be bumped from the top spot just yet.

Providence Catholic remains at No. 2 this week, while Plainfield North climbs one spot up to No. 3.

POWERADE State Baseball Rankings
  1. St. Laurence (28-4) — Last week: No. 1
  2. Providence Catholic (24-6) — Last week: No. 2
  3. Plainfield North (25-3) — Last week: No. 4
Click for complete POWERADE state rankings.

Follow Mike Grimala on Twitter (@MGrimalaESPN).
St. Laurence dropped a game last week, but it wasn't enough to knock the Vikings out of the top spot in the POWERADE state rankings.

That's partly because St. Laurence has been so good this year that the Vikings get the benefit of the doubt after slipping up. And it's also because the Nos. 2 and 3 teams from last week also lost, so neither was really pushing hard to be take over St. Laurence's spot.

Providence Catholic enjoyed a strong week and is now the No. 2 team in the state.

POWERADE State Baseball Rankings
  1. St. Laurence (23-2) — Last week: No. 1
  2. Providence Catholic (20-6) — Last week: No. 4
  3. Mount Carmel (23-2) — Last week: No. 2
Click for complete POWERADE state rankings.

Follow Mike Grimala on Twitter (@ESPNHSGrimala).
The top two teams in the POWERADE state rankings faced off last week, and though they split two games, there is a new No. 1 in Illinois.

Mount Carmel won the first meeting against St. Laurence, 16-2, but St. Laurence came back to take the second game, 1-0. Even though St. Laurence handed the Caravan its first loss of the season, that alone wouldn't have been enough to take over the top spot in the rankings. But the Vikings then got some help from Loyola, which beat Mount Carmel on Monday and opened the door for St. Laurence to assume the No. 1 position.

POWERADE State Baseball Rankings
  1. St. Laurence (21-1) — Last week: No. 2
  2. Mount Carmel (23-2) — Last week: No. 1
  3. Plainfield North (22-1) — Last week: No. 3
Click for complete POWERADE state rankings.
The top half of the POWERADE state rankings remain unchanged from last week, as all five teams enjoyed perfect weeks and held on to their spots. The bottom half, however, is a different story.

There are two new teams in the rankings (No. 8 Mundelein and No. 9 Marist), while Simeon is on the verge of dropping out after a disappointing week. Joliet Catholic, which peaked at No. 4 earlier in the season, is the biggest climber of the week after jumping from No. 10 to No. 7.

For now, it looks like the top five teams are separating themselves from the rest of the state.

POWERADE State Baseball Rankings
  1. Mount Carmel (17-0) — Last week: No. 1
  2. St. Laurence (18-1) — Last week: No. 2
  3. Plainfield North (14-1) — Last week: No. 3
Click for complete POWERADE state rankings.

Follow Mike Grimala on Twitter (@ESPNHSGrimala).
There is some slight movement at the top of the POWERADE state rankings this week, with the No. 1 and No. 2 teams flip-flopping. Mount Carmel is the new No. 1 team after enjoying a 4-0 week, while St. Laurence drops to No. 2 after suffering its first loss of 2012.

The rest of the rankings remain mostly unchanged, with the exception of No. 5 Lyons dropping out of the top 10. The Lions were No. 1 after week one, but they've stumbled recently with three losses over the past two weeks.

POWERADE State Baseball Rankings
  1. Mount Carmel (14-0) — Last week: No. 2
  2. St. Laurence (14-1) — Last week: No. 1
  3. Plainfield North (9-1) — Last week: No. 3
Click for complete POWERADE state rankings.

Follow Mike Grimala on Twitter (@ESPNHSGrimala).
Kevin RossScott KurtzRoss is the type of talent who comes around "every 10 to 15 years," according to his coach.
This story originally appeared in the April issue of ESPNHS Magazine.

At first glance, you’d probably think Niles West’s Kevin Ross had a good 2011 season. As a junior, he hit .436 with four home runs and 30 RBIs, numbers that would impress most people. But numbers don’t mean everything. Not to Ross, anyway. For the slugging shortstop, the campaign was something of a disappointment.

“I don’t feel like I did as well as I could have last year,” says Ross, who is ranked No. 87 in the Class of 2012 by ESPN. “I never felt loose all season. I was always out in front, and a lot of curveballs were getting me. I’ve got to improve on that if I want to have the kind of season I’m capable of.”

So Ross spent his offseason working on his flexibility and speed. By getting more athletic, he believes he’ll be able to handle pitches that were difficult to square up last year. He’s got the elite bat speed and strong lower half of a prototypical power hitter, but loosening up should make him a more complete hitter in 2012.

Ross, a right-handed batter, looks to one of MLB’s best lefties for inspiration.

“I like to remind myself of Robinson Cano,” says Ross, evoking the New York Yankees’ All-Star second baseman. “He stays loose and lets the ball get deep, and that’s one of my biggest problems. I jump at the ball a lot and don’t always let it get deep. And he’s one of the best hitters in the game, so I try to remind myself to take that approach when I’m up there.”

The offseason focus on better athleticism has also helped Ross in the field. He considers shortstop to be his home on the diamond, but at 6-foot-1, 200 pounds, coaches and scouts have told him that he may have to change positions in the near future. Ross wants to hold off on that as long as possible.

Ross stole 16 bases last season, so he’s not exactly slow. But he knows he has to clean up his footwork and increase his range in order to stay at shortstop.

Wherever Ross ends up in the field, his greatest asset will always be his bat. Niles West coach Garry Gustafson says Ross is the type of talent who only comes around “every 10 to 15 years,” and he expects Ross to be among the state leaders in all the power stats this season. Ross is currently batting over .600 through the Wolves' first 11 games.

Ross has been in contact with MLB scouts, and he’s been projected as a potential pick in June’s MLB draft. He’s signed to play at Michigan next year, but being drafted could change those plans.

“My dream is to play in the major leagues,” says Ross. “I’m going to do everything I can to get there.”

Follow Mike Grimala on Twitter (@ESPNHSGrimala).
The season is still very young, so there was (predictably) a lot of movement in this week's POWERADE state rankings. There's a new team at No. 1, and two new additions to the Top 10.

St. Laurence moves up to the top spot after winning three games last week to improve to 9-0. The former No. 1 squad, Lyons, has hit a rough patch, with a pair of losses causing the Lions to fall to No. 5.

The biggest jump in the rankings is Oak Park-River Forest, which slides in at No. 6 after starting the season unranked. New Trier also enters the rankings for the first time this week at No. 10.

POWERADE State Baseball Rankings
  1. St. Laurence (9-0) — Last week: No. 3
  2. Mount Carmel (10-0) — Last week: No. 2
  3. Plainfield North (6-0) — Last week: No. 7
Click for complete POWERADE state rankings.

Follow Mike Grimala on Twitter (@ESPNHSGrimala).
Mount Carmel relied on a powerful offense to reach the Class 4A state semifinals last year, and with players like Sam Kint and Jerry Houston swinging away, the Caravan should be a contender again in 2012.

Kint, a senior first baseman, is one of the top sluggers in Illinois after producing 12 home runs and 53 RBIs last year. At 6-foot-5, Kint brings a real intimidation factor to the batter's box, and his 12 homers tied a single-season school record. He is an ESPNHS All-State selection this year. Houston, a junior shortstop, hit .405 with three HRs, 37 RBIs and 47 runs a year ago. Also a skilled defender, Houston's all-around game makes him one of the state's best young players.

Senior Tyler Laurisch gives the Caravan a third stud in the lineup, as he hit at a .422 clip last year while driving in 30 runs. Together, Kint, Houston and Laurisch form the nucleus of what should once again be one of Illinois' top offenses.

Most of the question marks surround the team's pitching staff. Laurisch will attempt to step into the No. 1 spot in the rotation after going 7-2 with a 3.08 ERA last year. The right-hander struggled with control problems in 2011, walking 53 batters in 61.1 innings, so he'll have to improve his control in order to pitch like a true ace.

Behind Laurisch, senior left-hander Frank Kelly could take on a larger role after going 4-1 with a 1.79 ERA in 27.1 innings as a junior. Junior righty Jason Gasser could also earn significant innings.

If the Caravan sort out the pitching staff, another push deep into the state tournament is very possible. In addition to the Kint-Houston-Laurisch core, Mount Carmel also returns junior second baseman Beau Filkins (.324 BA, 24 RBIs, 24 R) and senior catcher Tom Hayes (.342 BA, four HRs, 33 RBIs).

Follow Mike Grimala on Twitter (@ESPNHSGrimala).
ESPNHS has announced its preseason All-State baseball teams, so feel free to start debating the Illinois selections.

It's hard to argue with the inclusion of elite players like Simeon senior C Blake Hickman and Prospect senior RHP Jack Landwehr, both of whom made the first team, but take a look for yourself and let us know if we missed anyone.

Click here for the Illinois All-State baseball team.

Click here for any of the other 49 states.

Follow Mike Grimala on Twitter (@ESPNHSGrimala).

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