Knights guaranteed share of SCC Blue title
When it came to securing a Suburban Christian Conference Blue title, Chicago Christian was fit to be tied last week.
One more win this week, however, and the Knights won’t have to share.
Christian entered the current week one game in front of Aurora Central Catholic in the divisional standings, a gap created by the outcome of two contests last Thursday. Thus, the Knights guaranteed themselves no worse than a share of the SCC Blue crown, but if they defeated Marmion Academy this past Monday, the championship would belong to them alone.
“We had three goals for the year, and the only baseball goal was being conference champs,” said Christian coach Eric Brauer, whose first four Knights clubs all topped the 20-win mark but did not lay claim to an SCC title.
“It feels really good to accomplish it. It’s been fun.”
Brauer placed renewed emphasis on Christian’s conference well-being for reasons beyond just regular-season gratification. He also felt it would aid the Knights in their quest to seriously pursue a Class 2A championship.
“We want to take that next step [in the state tournament],” said Brauer, whose squad reached the sectional-final round last spring. “We felt the best way to do that was to have our best pitchers go in the conference games and attack those like they were playoff games. It was good to get in some of those dogfights.”
Although its gaudy ledger may seem to indicate otherwise, Christian (24-3, 13-2) hasn’t coasted its way to the top of the SCC Blue. That much was evident last week, as both St. Edward and Aurora Christian held the Knights’ normally robust offense in check.
The Eagles, in fact, flat-out stymied Chicago Christian on Thursday. The latter collected only one hit, but that double by Wally Findysz brought in a third-inning run for the Knights.
They also drew four free passes in the stanza and benefited as well from two wild pitches. It all added up to a 3-0 triumph that, when coupled with an Aurora Central Catholic setback on that same day, handed Chicago Christian sole ownership of the divisional penthouse.
“Usually when you put that little together, you lose the game,” Brauer said. “If that’s your pregame stats line, you’d think that if you were going to win, it’d be 1-0. To scratch out three runs was huge.
“We felt very fortunate to win this game. It was one of our better wins, and we didn’t do a whole lot to deserve it. We fought hard, but we just didn’t have a lot of [statistical] numbers to show for it.”
One number that favored the Knights was 115, which was the amount of pitches they forced Aurora Christian’s hurler — a University of Iowa recruit — to throw. Sharing the mound chores for Chicago Christian were Martin Johnston, Chris Lyle and Corey Bulthuis. Lyle earned his fourth win without a loss, while Bulthuis recorded his eighth save.
Chicago Christian 2-11
St. Edward 0-1
The Knights had faced a similarly tough challenge three days earlier, when Josh Novak and the Green Wave’s starter hooked up in another superb pitchers’ duel. Between them, the duo allowed just three hits.
Chicago Christian had two of them, including Brodie Meyer’s RBI single in the third inning that staked the Knights to a 2-0 lead. The locals also tallied on Sean O’Meara’s sacrifice fly, which followed a pair of bases-on-balls and St. Edward error.
The Green Wave’s only decent scoring opportunity came in the seventh, when Novak issued two walks with one out. Bulthuis relieved and set down the next two St. Edward batters without incident to save Novak’s sixth straight victory on the hill. The latter struck out five during his 6 1/3-inning stint and, according to his coach, “threw a phenomenal game.”
Novak was backed by an error-free defense, and he and his teammates were aboard the bus and ready for the return trip home after wrapping up a win in just 88 minutes.
The Green Wave jumped out in front of Christian right away in last Tuesday’s rematch, but their first-inning homer soon got buried beneath a Knights scoring blitz. The hosts were ahead 6-1 after only two at-bats and St. Edward had no adequate answer for that assault.
“It was tough, I’m sure, for them to bounce back [mentally],” Brauer said of the Wave. “It was tough traveling an hour after losing 2-0. [Monday’s game] could have been 0-0 going into the seventh, where a bloop hit could have won it for them. That would have made things entirely different.”
Spearheading Christian’s offensive performance were Findysz and O’Meara, who went a combined 6-for-7 with six RBI and four runs scored. O’Meara included a bases-clearing triple among his hits, while Findysz swatted a two-run double. Also chipping in were Dylan Marinec (two hits, one RBI), Bulthuis (two hits) and Meyer (one hit, two sacrifice flies, three RBI).
“We came out swinging the bats [well] — even most of our outs were hard-hit,” Brauer said. “It was a drastically different game than Monday’s. The wind was blowing in at St. Ed’s and it was cooler, so it was a much friendlier hitting day on Tuesday.
“And their pitcher just couldn’t locate [the plate]. He was a little erratic and pitching from behind [in the count] a lot.”
Knights hurler Christian Bolhuis didn’t have that problem, as he gave up just one other hit besides the early homer. In raising his season record to 8-2, the sophomore fanned five and walked one.
Chicago Christian 16
Wheaton Academy 2
The Knights were also on cruise control last Friday after erupting for five first-inning markers and shoving the Warriors into a rather deep hole. Christian went on to score four more times in the second and seven times in the fifth to conclude the contest via the mercy rule.
Novak was the winning pitcher after tossing a one-hitter and striking out six in his fourth complete-game performance within conference play. He also lent a hand at the plate, as he singled, coaxed a pair of free passes and drove in four runs. Mike Santarelli (two hits, including a two-run double, three RBI), Meyer (two hits, two RBI) and Marinec (two-run double) were the Knights’ other ringleaders.
As has been true far more often than not this season, the Knights made maximum use of their baserunners. Through walks and hits, Christian put 19 men aboard and all but three of them eventually crossed the plate.
“We’ve got a lot of really unselfish guys,” Brauer said. “They’re doing their little piece to keep the team winning and they’re willing to sacrifice personal stats for the team’s benefit.”
In addition to their meeting with Marmion Academy, the Knights were slated to clash with Christian Liberty, University High, Shepard and Evergreen Park this week.