Matt Carolan of River Forest is safe at home. | Photo by Tom Legan

Following a runner-up finish at the Illinois Little League State Tournament last year, the River Forest 11U boys team recently took first place at the Little League District 10 Championships, followed by qualification for the Illinois Little League 11U State Tournament.

The team has been crushing the competition with a pair of District 10 wins over Elmhurst by a combined score of 30-4, followed by sub-state tourney victories, 13-3 over Ridge Beverly, 10-3 against Bradley-Bourbonnais and 12-3 versus Warren Park.

The River Forest 11U players include:  Matt Carolan, Spike Gall, Patrick Ganschow, Luke Hickey, Ben Jarnecke, A.J. Kilburg, Ryan Lazewski, Nic Lissuzzo, Dutch Navigato, Ethan Niewoehner, T.J. Nix, Jimmy O’Brien and Jack Paris. Assistant coaches are Dennis Jarnecke and Joe Lazewski.

After reaching this point a season ago, head coach Matt Hickey feels the team is more prepared this time around. Last season the whole experience was new to the players, as 10U is the first level of travel tournaments in Little League.

One of the keys to the team’s success is chemistry. Many of the players have been playing with and against each other for three years. Most will attend school together in the fall as well.

“These kids started playing on tournaments teams when they were eight. A lot of the kids go to the same school so they all know each other,” Hickey said. “Now that they’ve been together on this team, the friendships have gotten deeper. I think we have a good chemistry among all the kids.”

River Forest’s state tournament team is comprised of players who rated the highest by the coaches in their house league.

While making it this far is a nice feat, Hickey doesn’t believe the team has accomplished anything substantial. The goal is to win the state tournament, which River Forest narrowly lost out on in 2017.

“We haven’t done anything yet,” Hickey said. “We went to state last year and we’re going to state again.”

The fact that this group of players has come together to achieve the level of success they have may be considered remarkable considering some of the disadvantages they face.

For example, the boys often take on teams from larger areas with nicer equipment, more support, and more players to form a team. However, Hickey does not fear any of the bigger teams. He believes his players can defeat any team that stands in front of them.

“I wouldn’t say it’s daunting,” Hickey said. “The teams that draw from the bigger populations might all have personalized travel bags, and banners on the fences, (but) as coaches we don’t get intimidated by that. Our kids go out and beat them so I don’t think it really matters too much.”

Although people from outside the area may not have expected this group of players to be so successful, Hickey projects a feeling of self-confidence that clearly radiates throughout his players. The boys were on cusp of winning a state championship last year. They are only hoping for an improved result when they take the field in the state tournament on July 28.

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