Mustangs don’t misstep in busy week
Even a Saturday tripleheader couldn’t slow the surge.
Prior to last week, Evergreen coach Mark Smyth was wondering when he’d see his offense finally make its presence felt. He never lost faith, even while the Mustangs lost games largely because of a Punch-and-Judy attack.
But starting last Monday, Judy was nowhere to be found and the punches packed considerably more sting.
In what unquestionably ranked as its finest week of the season, and may have also been one of the best ever put together during Smyth’s 13-year tenure, Evergreen won six times. Two of the contests featured the Mustangs scoring a double-digit number of runs.
But even when that didn’t happen, Evergreen took care of business. Most notable among the conquests were 4-3 triumphs over Tinley Park and Reavis on Thursday and Saturday, respectively, which suddenly made the Mustangs a factor in the South Suburban Conference Red race.
Evergreen (9-10, 6-5) still trailed division-leading Oak Lawn by two games heading into the current week, but back-to-back meetings with the Spartans on Monday and Tuesday afforded the Mustangs a chance to shake up things a great deal.
“Those are two huge games,” Smyth said, referring to the matchups with Oak Lawn. “We could turn the whole thing into a free-for-all.”
Evergreen’s possible emergence as a contender wouldn’t have been possible, though, without its twin victories over the Titans and Rams. What made the latter success particularly eye-opening was that the Mustangs immediately followed it up with a pair of wins over Thornton later that same day.
But first things first, and first Evergreen slipped past Reavis by scoring once in both the seventh and eighth innings to erase a Rams lead. Reavis errors were responsible for the Mustangs’ plating of both the tying and deciding runs.
“When it’s close, it’s a matter of putting pressure on a team, and we were being aggressive [on the bases],” Smyth said. “When we were struggling early in the season, it seemed like we were hitting the ball hard and making outs, or not making one play would cost us. Eventually, the baseball gods have to even things out.
“It wasn’t pretty, but we’ll take it. It was a great team win.”
Sean Miller and Mark Martin delivered RBI singles for Evergreen in the second and fourth innings, respectively, part of an eight-hit attack by the Mustangs. Martin also singled ahead of the Rams’ eighth-inning miscue.
Pitchers David Kutschke and Frank Meisl teamed up to hold Reavis’ bats in check, with Meisl earning the win in relief. The Rams had shut out Evergreen 5-0 the week before.
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Tinley Park 3
Kyle Venhuizen was the Mustangs’ main man on Thursday at Standard Bank Stadium in Crestwood, as he went the distance and surrendered only five hits to the Titans. He was backed by solid defense, which was best illustrated by Martin’s diving catch in the outfield and Tim Walsh’s grab of a hard-hit line drive.
Evergreen went ahead 1-0 in the first inning and never trailed, although Tinley put some heat on during its final plate appearance. The Titans loaded the bases with one out and Venhuizen fell behind the next batter 3-0 before recovering to induce a groundout. A fielder’s choice then ended the SSC crossover contest.
“That was big-time stuff for him to really bear down after pitching the whole game,” Smyth said of his senior hurler. “He sort of put us on his back. That would have been a real tough [loss] to take [because] we pretty much had control of the game.”
The veteran coach felt the Mustangs missed out on a couple chances to create greater distance between themselves and Tinley, but he still liked the fact that Evergreen knocked out nine hits. The crisp defense pleased him, too.
“We’re starting to make plays we haven’t necessarily been making before,” Smyth said. “If you’re going to win some games in a row, you have to win games like this and rely on your seniors to lead the way. That’s what we did.”
Venhuizen, who also escaped a first-inning jam without incident, chipped in on the offensive side as well with an RBI double in the sixth and sacrifice fly in the first. Dan Kohler and Mike Rizzo both aided the cause with RBI singles.
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Defeating the Hawks soundly on Friday wasn’t unexpected, but Smyth was nevertheless wary of the conference crossover game simply because it came right after the Mustangs had played a night contest.
But Nick Siemiawski made sure there was nothing to worry about by tossing a three-hitter and fanning 11 batters over six innings. Hillcrest notched its only runs off him in its initial at-bat, which briefly gave it a one-run edge.
However, Evergreen regained the lead at 3-2 in third and blew the doors off by scoring 11 times between the fifth and sixth stanzas. Included in the Mustangs’ 13-hit barrage were two-run homers by Kohler, Keyshawn Carpenter and Mike Reuter, plus a solo shot from Kevin Farmer. Kohler, Reuter and Farmer also doubled.
Smyth was especially happy to see Farmer step forward.
“He really gave us a spark,” Smyth said. “That’s great to see guys come through when given an opportunity.”
RBI men for Evergreen in addition to the home-run hitters were Venhuizen (two) and Corey Miller.
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Bloom Twp. 2
The Mustangs’ busy week got underway last Wednesday versus the Blazing Trojans, who were behind by the time the first frame ended and down by seven runs after three innings.
“We got off to a good start,” Smyth said. “It was good to see that and [be able to] play off a lead.”
Eight members of Evergreen’s starting lineup hit safely. Rizzo supplied a pair of hits and tallied twice, while Venhuizen (double), Dan Duh (double), Martin and Sean Miller all registered RBI with their hits.
“When we were sitting at 3-10, I thought we had a good-hitting team,” Smyth said. “I was trying to be patient and let it come around. We’re not as good as we can be yet and we’re still making strides, but [the attitudes are] becoming positive.”
Meisl banked the pitching victory after whiffing eight in six innings.
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Smyth figured he’d give some of his seldom-used athletes a chance to get noticed in Saturday’s second and third games, and pitchers Aaron Green Van Zee and David Ziebarth did exactly that.
The duo stymied the Wildcats in each end of the doubleheader as they both “were lights out,” according to Smyth. Ziebarth, in particular, didn’t really have to be since the Mustangs supported his five-hit, three-strikeout effort with 10 hits and four scoring innings, including a five-run third that essentially hung Thornton out to dry.
Duh, Walsh, Ron O’Toole and Will Jones all produced two-hit games, while Reuter had one, plus two runs and an RBI. Walsh scored three times to pace Evergreen in that department, while Duh and O’Toole topped the Mustangs with two RBI apiece.
Also credited by Smyth for solid play in the field was shortstop David Martinez.
Green Van Zee stopped the Wildcats on seven hits in Game 1 while fanning six. Reuter (two hits, two RBI, one run) and Farmer (two hits, one RBI, one run) were Evergreen’s ringleaders at the plate.