CRYSTAL LAKE – If Thursday's baseball game between Lake in the Hills and Mickeys Sleds and More had ended after the top half of the fourth inning, the Thunder would have accomplished their highest goal against the team that handed them their first lost.
But, as Thunder coach Mark Lonigro has said multiple times over the past week, "Baseball happens."
It happened to the Thunder on Thursday as they lost to Mickeys of Midland, Mich., 10-6, in an elimination game of the McHenry County Youth Sports Association Summer International Championships 15U tournament.
For a moment, however, it looked as though the Thunder would get their coveted win in the Gold Bracket when power hitter Dan Rochotte broke a 2-2 tie with a solo home run in the top of the fourth. He wore a big grin as he rounded the bases after launching a fastball over the fence in right field.
"It felt really nice," Rochotte said. "Especially in a game where your season could be over with. I just played like I had nothing to lose."
His big hit sparked the Thunder lineup, which produced two more runs. Daniel Salomon singled home Matt Schneider, and Salomon scored later in the inning on a wild pitch.
The Thunder looked in control as 15-year-old staff ace Daniel Tenayuca was dealing on the mound through the first three innings, but he ran into trouble as he tried to navigate through the opposing lineup a third time. Mickeys scored eight runs in the bottom half of the fourth.
"What can you do?" Tenayuca said. "I've had so much fun playing with these guys, and that is what I'll remember forever."
Although they didn't win a game in the Gold Bracket, the young Thunder, made up predominantly of 14-year-olds, proved to their coach and to themselves that they can compete at this level as the only local team to advance to the top bracket.
The Thunder lost, 12-4, in the first meeting against Mickeys during pool play, and like Lonigro asked after Wednesday's loss to Illinois Elite, they showed up with the right attitude Thursday. The coach was impressed with the way his team kept its composure through such a tough fourth inning and battled back to score another run in the sixth.
"It's truly a great group of guys, and [Thursday's] game is what it's about," Lonigro said. "They battled and didn't let anything get under their skin, especially when things didn't go their way. They are building a good foundation for this team in the future."
Some of the team will be moving on to high school ball or other travel teams, but most say that time spent on the Thunder led to their most memorable baseball experience.
Rochotte, who was playing in his fifth MCYSA tournament, said this year was his favorite, partly because he placed second in the home run derby during the skills contest July 26.
"Just the way we went out and competed as a team will always stick in my mind," he said. "I also made so many friends, even some from other teams like Brazil. It was awesome."