Stagg sophomore fires no-hitter at Lincoln-Way West
This sophomore jinxed Lincoln-Way West.
Jeff Goral had already demonstrated some pitching prowess earlier this spring when he handcuffed Richards in what eventually became a 1-0 Stagg win. But last Wednesday, much to Lincoln-Way West’s chagrin, the Chargers’ young hurler took another giant step forward in his development at the Warriors’ expense.
Through 5 1/3 innings, Lincoln-Way West did not put a single runner on base versus Goral. His bid for a perfect game ended on a Stagg error, and Goral also walked a batter and plunked another before the SouthWest Suburban Conference Red contest concluded.
However, the no-hitter remained intact, and the Chargers rode that to a 2-0 triumph over the Warriors. Goral’s gem was the first for a Stagg hurler since 2010, when Thornridge was victimized in a perfect game.
That contest lasted only five stanzas, though, and Lincoln-Way West certainly ranked as a vastly superior foe.
“He’s a confident kid,” Chargers coach Matt O’Neill said of Goral, “and I think playing varsity basketball [this past winter] helped. Just the mental aspect of understanding that you belong there [builds confidence].
“The big thing with Jeff is, when he’s not walking guys, he’s got good stuff. “That’s kind of it in a nutshell. Just based on his stuff, we kind of figured he’d have a chance to get some guys out [this season], and to be honest I kind of had a feeling that Goral and [Max] Strus were going to be our conference guys [on the hill].”
Goral whiffed four and worked from ahead in the count against 19 of the 24 batters he faced. Sixty-eight percent of his offerings went for strikes.
As good as he was, Goral nearly had an equal in the other dugout. Stagg squeezed out just three hits itself off the Warriors’ starting pitcher, and one of those — Strus’ second-inning single — fell in because a Lincoln-Way West outfielder lost the ball in the sun.
That hit proved critical, however, as it chased in Mike Farnan, who had reached on an error and stolen second base, and Brett Stratinsky, who was intentionally walked.
The Chargers’ win enabled them to avenge a loss to the Warriors suffered two days prior to that. Lincoln-Way West downed Stagg 8-1 on Monday by using a pair of four-run outbursts to complete the task.
The Warriors’ initial uprising happened in the opening frame and featured a two-RBI double and three other hits, including two bunt singles.
“That first inning kind of set the tone and hurt us,” O’Neill said. “They hit a couple balls where we weren’t, a couple bunts were perfectly placed, and there was not much we could do about it.”
The Chargers (7-13, 4-3) didn’t get many scoring opportunities. They wasted Peter Angelos’ leadoff double in the first, but capitalized on a Lincoln-Way West miscue in the third, a mistake that followed singles by Angelos and Stratinsky, plus a free pass.
But any hopes that the scoring would mark the beginning of a Stagg comeback got dashed in the bottom of the same inning, when the Warriors plated four more runs. Three straight RBI doubles figured prominently in the hosts’ noisemaking.
The Chargers played errorless defense behind pitcher Steve Kubiak and he didn’t issue any bases-on-balls, but Lincoln-Way West made headway by reaching Kubiak for 10 hits.
When the Thunderbolts struck for a four-spot in the top of the second on Thursday, they appeared primed for a good day. The Chargers thought otherwise.
Andrew’s rally had been put together with a two-bagger and several smaller offensive pieces, but the fact it “didn’t hit a ball hard except for the double” kept O’Neill optimistic about the situation gradually improving for his squad.
And indeed it did, beginning with Stagg’s three-run response in the bottom of the second. Four hits, including RBI safeties from Jimmy Farnan (double) and Mike Rankin, were part of the eruption, as was Kubiak’s sacrifice fly.
“We were getting some timely hits and making the plays defensively,” said O’Neill, whose club had escaped unscathed from a bases-loaded, no-out jam in the top of the first when pitcher Strus notched outs against the T’bolts with a fielder’s choice, fly ball and third strike.
“There were a lot of big plays in the game and we were executing well. Getting that [early] momentum was obviously huge.”
The Chargers tied the score in the fourth on a successful double steal and then went ahead for the first time on Jack Duffner’s fifth-inning single. That wound up being the last bit of scoring for either team.
Strus bagged the pitching win with relief help from Ricky Rogers, who earned a save by inducing a game-ending double play in the seventh. When asked if Stagg’s fourth triumph in its last five outings signaled a turning-the-corner moment, O’Neill replied, “We sure hope so.”
“In 20 games, realistically, we’ve had 20 different lineups,” he said. “We’re kind of figuring out where guys can fit in, and I really believe defensively we can still be pretty good. I think we have good pitching depth and guys who battle.”
A rematch with Andrew was on tap for this past Tuesday. That was the first of five contests for the Chargers, but O’Neill pegged the one with the T’bolts as most critical.
“If we can win on Tuesday, we’ve got a real nice shot of finishing second behind Lincoln-Way North [in the SWSC Red],” he said.