By Marty Farmer
Riverside Little League baseball player Connor Dominick has heard of NBA legend Michael Jordan. However, the Jordan "flu game," in which His Airness scored 38 points in a win over the Utah Jazz in Game 5 of the 1997 NBA Finals is an unfamiliar story.
Like Jordan, Dominick played with a high fever in the postseason and came through for his team. In a 7-6 win over Clear Ridge at the Illinois District 9 Little League 10-Under Sub-State Tournament, Dominick had two hits and three RBIs for Riverside.
"Connor was getting medicine and rest, but still playing with a bad fever at sub-state," said Riverside head coach and Connor's dad, Matt Dominick. "We asked him if he can go [to play] and he was ready. I told him that his performance reminded me of the Jordan flu game. He didn't know what I was talking about. I said to him, 'it's a great story that I'll tell you about later.'"
In seven playoff games (Riverside went 5-2), Connor Dominick hit .435 with 10 hits and 13 runs knocked in.
"I had a great time playing with my friends," he said. "It was a great honor for us to play for our town and win the [District 9] championship."
While Connor Dominick turned in a signature effort against Clear Ridge, Riverside excelled in the playoffs with its overall talent, consistency and chemistry. Different players stepped up each game.
The team rolled to the District 9 title with convincing wins over South Cicero, Western Springs (twice) and LaGrange. The most memorable victory occurred against LaGrange in the semifinals.
"The LaGrange game was the most exciting from start to finish," Matt Dominick said. "They were the one team at districts that really gave us the most trouble."
Against LaGrange, Dominick hit a sacrifice fly to give Riverside a 7-6 lead in the top of the seventh inning. LaGrange threatened to score with a runner on first and its cleanup hitter at the plate in its half of the frame, however, a game-ending double play by Riverside secured the win.
At the sub-state tournament, Riverside went 1-2 in three competitive games. The team lost 3-1 to Alsip and 12-10 to Hinsdale. In between those games, Riverside edged Clear Ridge 7-6.
"I think the kids got over not making the state tournament much quicker than the coaches," Matt Dominick said. "We wanted the kids to be in it to win it with a competitive spirit, but also enjoy this experience especially playing with their friends.
"We have a good group of players. Heading into districts though, no one expected the level of success they reached this summer. The kids really stepped up their game and came together as a team. The community support was fantastic; they rooted for this scrappy group."
Along with Connor Dominick's heroics against Clear Ridge, several players provided memorable highlights throughout the postseason. Pitcher Ronnie Murray threw a complete-game gem against Western Springs. He allowed only four hits on 60 pitches.
"To watch Ronnie go six innings on 60 pitches was pretty amazing," Matt Dominick said. "It's rare to see a kid at this level pitch so effectively and efficiently."
Murray, who also played third base, led the team in average (.500), RBIs (15), doubles (3) and triples (2).
Charlie Sloan had the game-winning hit against Clear Ridge. Harry Sramek finished the postseason with an on-base percentage of .620, while Braeden Novak went 5-for-6 at sub-state.
Eli Costello provided leadership and defense behind the plate, while Nick Ortiz flourished as a two-way player at shortstop. Pitcher Henry Grossart threw 4.2 innings against Hinsdale Central to keep Riverside in the game. Oliver Fakhoury, Garrett McNally, Mason Tamlyn and Reese Jackson anchored a solid bench. Unfortunately, utility player Marco Villardito missed most of the playoffs due to a broken finger.
"Our players were not together very long before the playoffs started," Matt Dominick said. "They had about two, three weeks of practice and jelled together as a team very quickly. That chemistry showed in the games."
The Riverside 10U players are Charlie Sloan (2B/OF), Will Tomczak (P/OF), Oliver Fakhoury (OF), Reese Jackson (OF), Ronnie Murray (P/3B), Marco Villardito (OF/1B), Garrett McNally (OF/P), Connor Dominick (P/2B), Zak Milchhoefer (OF), Eli Costello (C/P), Braeden Novak (1B/OF/P), Nick Ortiz (SS/P), Henry Grossart (P/OF), Mason Tamlyn and Harry Sramek (OF).
The assistant coaches are Jim Sloan, Tony Villardito, Anthony Sramek and Jeff Novak.