Mike Himes grew up on the ball diamonds of Princeton learning the game of baseball and dreaming big.
Earlier this month, some of those dreams were realized.
Himes, a 1998 graduate of Princeton High School, took part on Chicago Mount Carmel High School’s 4A state championship run as an assistant coach. The Caravan shut out Neuqua Valley 8-0 in the State semifinals and then edged Libertyville 2-1 to claim the state championship.
“We’re still on cloud 9 because it is the first state (baseball) championship at Mount Carmel,” said Himes, who has been on the Caravan staff for eight years. “The feeling hasn’t sunk in with any of the coaching staff. You cause this for so long, put so many man-hours into it and so much time into it and it just happens so quickly, that whole run from the sectional games onto the state championship it only last a week, but going back and talking about and thinking about all the practices and scouting the games, it felt like it was a month long. In some regards, it felt like it was a month, but the moments just fly by.”
The baseball title is the 22nd state championship in school history for Mount Carmel, a parochial school best known for football. It comes on the heels of the Caravan’s 8A state crown in football last fall.
“It was pretty special to replicate the football team’s state championship. It’s only the third time in school history for multiple state championships in the same year,” Himes said. “And Mount Carmel has a name for being an athletic school, more so of a football school, so now that we can throw our hat into the ring for having a state championship it makes it real special.”
Himes said five of the Caravan players also received state championship rings for being on the football teams. One of them is center-fielder Jason Gasser, who was the Chicago Sun Times Player of the Year. He’s a wide receiver in football.
“We’re going to look back at our team photo and eight of our nine starters will play Division I baseball. That includes four of them are sophomores, so we’re looking to replicate the success the next couple of years while these guys are still in the building,” said Himes, who is director of technology and integrated media at Mount Carmel and was recently named the head golf coach. Mount Carmel is a private all boys school of 750 students. Their enrollment is doubled by the IHSA since it is not coed and then receives the private school multiplier of 1.65. As a result, a school of 750 turns into an enrollment of 3,000 by the IHSA.
Himes credits head coach Brian Hurry for turning the Caravan baseball program into a state power. They had not won a sectional game prior to his arrival in 2000 and now have won three state trophies since taking a runner-up finish in 2005.
To get to the top, the Caravan had to beat some playoff nemeses along the way.
At sectional, Mount Carmel rallied to beat LaGrange Lyons 5-3, defeating the same Lyons pitcher that beat them in the state semifinals and again in last year’s sectional finals.
In the sectional finals, the Caravan beat their Chicago Catholic Conference arch-rival Chicago St. Rita 5-4, a team Himes said they’ve had monumental battles with in conference and postseason play.
Then the Caravan tackled Lockport 2-1, the same time which had beat Mount Carmel 8-4 for the 2005 state championship.
“The run was pretty surreal, because it seemed we slayed every dragon that we had. We started to realize the planets are lining. We’re beating all of our playoff nemeses,” Himes said.
Perhaps a close second to winning that state championship would have been a potential state semifinal matchup against Himes’ brother, Drew (PHS 2002), an assistant coach for Downers Grove North. The brothers came two games away for meeting in the state semifinals with DGN getting knocked out in the sectional championship.
“If they’d won the sectional championship, we’d been one game away from playing. And then my parents would have had a big decision to make,” said Himes.
Mike is looking forward to that meeting some time because he has a score to settle with his little brother. Drew, a former farmhand for the Houston Astros, was the pitching coach for Glenbard North two years ago when it beat the Caravan.
“We had some friendly wagers going on; I think dinner was involved,” Himes said. “He ended up getting us. So he owns the series, 1-0, but I’ve got him on state championships. One of these days we’ll end up on the same side, but until then we’ll definitely have a rivalry going.”
• With the close of the school year, I just want to pass how along how impressed I’ve been with the senior class of 2013. I’ve come across a lot of great kids, too many to really name them all. But I found all the ones I gained a close relationship over the past four years and many others I’ve interviewed, to be outstanding young men and women and have bright futures ahead of them. I wish you all well in your future endeavors.
Kevin Hieronymus is the BCR Sports Editor. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org