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Illiana baseball receives state championship rings

Team prepares for next season of mental, physical, and spiritual sharpness

By Michael Clark

DYER, Ind. (January 12, 2022) – Life is good for Kevin Corcoran Jr.

The senior is playing a key role for Illiana Christian’s boys basketball team, averaging a team-high 4.3 assists per game for a club that is 7-2 and has won six in a row. It’s the basketball swan song for Corcoran, who’s an even more integral part of the Illiana baseball program, which won the school’s first team state title in any sport last June.

He allowed three total hits in complete-game wins in the semistate and Class 2A state final.

That title run was celebrated once again last Saturday when the Vikings received their state championship rings during a ceremony before the basketball team’s win over rival Chicago Christian.

A few days later, Corcoran announced his commitment to continue his baseball career at Webster University, a Missouri school that fields one of the best NCAA Division III teams in the country.

Rings for Illiana’s first-ever state title

“It was amazing,” Corcoran said of the ring ceremony. “Obviously I’m still really close with a lot of guys there. And to get back in a packed house … and to spend time with those guys and get the recognition that a lot of them deserve, it felt really special.”

The memories of the title run are something that Corcoran and the team will share for the rest of their lives, but now they also have something tangible to hold on to as well in the form of the championship rings.

“Oh, they were awesome,” Corcoran said of the rings. “I mean, they had everything that kind of represented llliana. They had our team (Bible) verse on there, which was really special to a lot of us. They had our name, our number. …”

Illiana Christian’s baseball state championship ring is shown. (Photo provided)

Faith and trials

The Bible passage is James 1:2-3 — “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.”

Those words struck a chord with Corcoran, head coach Jeff VanderWoude, and everyone in the Illiana program. The Vikings did face adversity last spring, losing three in a row at one point and sitting at 6-5 before eventually ending the season on a 14-1 run.

VanderWoude, a 1997 Illiana graduate who played baseball and wrestled at his alma mater, said that verse resonated because it dovetails with his coaching philosophy.

“I teach the mental game as much as the fundamentals,” VanderWoude said, adding that’s a shift in focus from earlier in his coaching career.

Being strong in faith and strong of mind are as much guiding principles for the Vikings as any pitching or hitting philosophy — all important priorities as Illiana heads into a new season in a couple months. While Corcoran is back along with shortstop Isaac VanderWoude, first baseman Cody DeJong, and DH Gavin Meyer, among others, a senior class noted for its leadership qualities has departed.

“Everybody was so close,” Jeff VanderWoude said.

New season

Corcoran concurred, and that has shaped his approach to the Vikings’ title defense.

“When I think about it, I look back and I’m like, what did we do right?” he said. “How can we apply that (in 2023)?”

Especially when adversity strikes, as it did last season.

“You reflect … what was that flip that we did?” Corcoran said. “Our chemistry was unbeaten. I honestly don’t think we can get that again. I don’t think we could get 20 guys in that dugout that could all click like we did. So thinking back on that season is just kind of, how can we use what we have to the best of our ability and put on a performance like we did last year?”

If they can capture that magic again, maybe there will be another ring ceremony down the road.

Illiana Christian High School is located at 10920 Calumet Avenue.

Mike Clark
Mike Clark
Mike Clark is a veteran journalist who has been covering sports in the Chicago area and beyond, from preps to pros, for more than four decades.