Aggressive Cardinals borrow their style from a Hall of Fame source

News-DemocratJune 6, 2014 

— Dave Greer coaches the Pleasant Plains Cardinals and takes his aggressive baseball philosophy right from the pages of another Cardinal -- former St. Louis Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog.

"I'm a firm believer back in the old days of Cardinal baseball, Whiteyball," said Greer, whose Springfield-area team has 185 stolen bases this season and picked up five more Friday in a 5-2 Class 2A state tournament semifinal win over Freeburg. "My whole premise has always been that way. We've had teams that can hit better, we've had teams that can pitch better.

"I've never had a team that can run like this one."

The Cardinals (30-11) also got two runs on squeeze plays and basically operate in a situation where the green light is always on.

"That's how we play," said Greer, whose team finished second in the state last year and is back in the title game despite losing seven starters. "I probably lead the state in guys getting thrown out. "Our schedule is super tough for 2A and we'll run on anybody. Sometimes we'll run ourselves out of innings."

Playing for third place

Freeburg and neighboring New Athens both saw their state championship dreams end and both will play for third place on Saturday. Is it tough to get a team motivated when playing for third instead of first?

"We haven't been here since 2002," said Freeburg coach Drew Gericke, whose school won its only state baseball title in 1989. "As the baseball coach I guess I'm biased, but I'd like to think we're a baseballs school. We've won many conference championships, many regional championships, but we haven't gotten to this point a lot."

This is Freeburg's fifth state tourney trip and both Freeburg and New Athens had strong fan support.

"It's always good to get here," Gericke said. "We set our goals every year to be at this point. Thirty wins doesn't come around very often. We're at that 30-win plateau right now, but tomorrow we're going to rally the troops and get 31."

All in the family

One of the proudest folks at Dozer Park in Peoria on Friday was former Freeburg baseball coach Fred Blumberg. Not only was his son, Rob Blumberg, on the Midgets' coaching staff, but four Freeburg coaches played baseball under the older Blumberg as well.

That includes Gericke, Rob Blumberg, Dean Brueggemann and Jeremy Schmittling.

Greer is well aware of Freeburg's baseball tradition, which includes three state tourney trips and a state title under Fred Blumberg.

"I was very, very concerned," Greer said. "Freeburg was a great program when Fred (Blumberg) had them and they've continued that. When you beat T-town, you know they're a quality program. But we've got a lot of fight. We're not the biggest team but we are mentally tough.

"I guarantee you won't find a team tougher than this kind of team."

Coaching move

New Athens coach Scott Wine pulled the plug on junior right-hander Brandon Contratto, who pitched well early before struggling a bit later. Contratto allowed seven hits and three runs in six innings, striking out eight but also walking seven.

"I was really concerned about Brandon at the beginning of the day," Wine said. "He had thrown 120 pitches on Saturday and he was feeling a little rough yesterday at practice. He was right at 120 again today and there's no game, to me, worth ruining a kid's arm. He's just a junior."

Gloves are optional

While taking infield practice during the pregame warmups Friday before playing New Athens, Webber Township players spent part of the time taking ground balls without using their gloves. It wasn't quite as effective as watching a team take infield while faking catches and throws and not using any balls, but it still made you look to make sure it was real.

Cover shot

Among the players featured on the state baseball tournament program cover is Gibault High senior left-hander Zach Neff, who helped the Hawks win the Class 1A state title last season.

Contact reporter Norm Sanders at 239-2454, nsanders@bnd.com or follow him on Twitter: @NormSanders

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