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Crowded at the top

  • Written by Ken Karrson

Vikings create logjam atop CCL Blue.

 
  Three’s a crowd in baseball, too.
  St. Laurence coach Pete Lotus would have preferred his team occupying a less-congested spot atop the Chicago Catholic League Blue standings, and for a while it appeared as if his wish would be granted. By knocking off St. Rita twice in the same season for the first time, the Vikings shot past both the Mustangs and Mt. Carmel and into first place by themselves.
  But that Wednesday gain became a Saturday loss when Loyola Academy handed out the latter to St. Laurence. The Ramblers didn’t have any baserunners against Vikings pitcher Zach Lewis through 5 1/3 innings, but two St. Laurence errors, a walk and pair of hits led to two runs in the sixth and Loyola went on to claim a 3-1 triumph in Burbank in a contest that didn’t get underway until 4:30 p.m. because of SATs.
  “Those are games you’ve got to win,” Lotus said. “That was a pretty bad inning at a bad time, especially for as dominating as Zach was before that. We didn’t play terrible, but we made some really bad mistakes and we didn’t hit as well as we have been, and that came back to haunt us.”
  Lotus felt his squad wasted a couple early opportunities. The Vikings (18-6, 11-2) placed runners at the corners in the first inning to no avail, and they were also unable to put a leadoff double to maximum use in the second.
  “If we get one [run] early, with the way Zach was throwing, it’s a different ballgame,” Lotus said. “We’ve got to do a better job of sticking to it and continuing to have good at-bats when we don’t get out to a lead right away.”
  St. Laurence didn’t score until the fifth, but it grabbed the first lead after Brad Wood singled home Ryan Rybakowski, who had also gotten aboard with a base hit. Rybakowski then stole second and moved to third on a wild pitch.
  However, Loyola responded with its deuce and then tacked on an insurance run in the seventh, using three hits and a sacrifice fly to hit the final payoff. While Lotus credited the Ramblers for their performance, he wondered if his own athletes had perhaps basked in the glow of their twin wins over St. Rita a bit too long.
  “We tried to talk about not treating this game any differently,” Lotus said. “[Loyola was] just as competitive, and all the games are like that in the Blue. Everybody has players capable of beating you.”
  Lewis finished with 10 strikeouts while getting tagged with his second setback in seven decisions this spring.
 
St. Laurence 7-5
St. Rita 0-4
 
  While Lewis couldn’t complete his gem on Saturday, Wood was able to stun the Mustangs by firing a no-hitter last Monday. Wood struck out five and also issued five walks, but the Vikings compensated at least a little for the latter by turning two double plays.
  Even with the free passes factored in, though, Lotus couldn’t say enough about Wood’s effort.
  “It was tremendous,” Lotus said. “He was dominant, and it was one of the best games I’ve seen pitched in my eight years here. I don’t know if there’s ever been a better one against a top-level opponent.
  “Brad has three quality pitches. If he throws strikes, he’s very, very tough to hit.”
  Lotus had no preconceived notion as to what expect from Wood that day, since he never watches any of his pitchers in pregame warm-ups. Adam Lotus does that, but Pete doesn’t ask his brother for any report.
  Wood got the only run he’d really need when Lewis singled home Nate Tholl (single) in the opening stanza. Kevin White (RBI single) increased the edge to 2-0 in the second, then T.J. Marik went deep with a two-run shot in the fourth and Wood chased in another run with his fielder’s choice.
  Wood (single) and Tholl (sacrifice fly) drove in St. Laurence’s last two runs in the sixth.
  “We did a tremendous job,” Lotus said. “We played very good defense behind Brad and I was very happy with our approach with everything.”
  As for Wood — who tossed a one-hitter versus Providence Catholic the week before — he is conjuring up memories of his older brother Kyle, a former two-time Player of the Year who was recruited by Purdue University.
  “They do things a little bit differently,” Lotus said. “But as far as how they play the game, they are both very competitive kids and do things the right way on the baseball field.
***
  Lotus knew beating the Mustangs a second time would be no easy feat, given both the nature of St. Rita’s earlier loss and the fact the Vikings had never vanquished the Mustangs on the road during his coaching tenure.
  But Mike Kornacker ended St. Laurence’s drought by pitching it to another victory last Wednesday. The Vikings needed an extra inning to finalize the verdict in their favor, but did so on Tholl’s sacrifice fly. That followed Rybakowski’s single, a hit batsman, walk and errant pickoff attempt.
  St. Laurence was ahead 2-0 after four stanzas, as White and Wood each delivered an RBI single. St. Rita, however, was not going to roll over a second time, and two Vikings errors aided the hosts during a fifth-inning plate appearance that resulted in four runs.
  Down for the first time in either contest, St. Laurence quickly responded with a game-tying deuce in the bottom of the fifth as Mike Miller stroked a two-out single and Marik swatted a two-run round-tripper.
  “It was great to see us come back that way,” Lotus said. “Ninety-nine percent of the games are tight between us, and we had to make sure we didn’t get too big-headed [after Monday] and had the same intensity and focus we had then. For the most part, we did that.”
  The Vikings finished with 11 hits in support of Kornacker, who gave up that same number of safeties but was relatively effective in scattering them. He fanned five and none of the runs scored off him was earned.
  A rematch with Loyola awaited St. Laurence this past Monday, and the Viking were also due to meet up twice with Brother Rice this week.
 
Statistics
 
St. Rita 000 000 0 - 0
St. Laurence 110 302 x - 7
 
St. Laurence 2B: Marik. HR: Marik. RBI: Marik 2, Wood 2, Lewis, Tholl, White. WP: Wood (4-1).
 
St. Laurence 010 120 01 - 5
St. Rita 000 040 00 - 4
 
St. Laurence 2B: Marik. HR: Marik. RBI: Marik 2, Tholl, White, Wood. WP: Kornacker (4-1).
 
Loyola Academy 000 002 1 - 3
St. Laurence 000 010 0 - 1
 
St. Laurence RBI: Wood. LP: Lewis (5-2).