Eagles get on another win streak
Reports of Sandburg’s demise have been greatly exaggerated.
In truth, nobody was writing the Eagles off as a lost cause, even in the face of some recent late-game meltdowns. However, there was also little doubt that all was not right in Sandburg’s baseball world.
So when Reavis scored four times in its final plate appearance last Monday to dramatically reduce an 11-5 deficit, some onlookers might have wondered if the Eagles were in the midst of yet another implosion. Not counted among that group were Sandburg athletes and coaches.
“You’re bound to lose leads during the course of a season,” Eagles assistant coach George Fear said. “Ours just happened to come three games in a row. That might have been in the back of [our players’] minds, but I think our guys are pretty loose and pretty confident. I think they know they’re capable of finishing [games successfully].”
That’s what Sandburg managed to do here, and the victory over the Rams kicked off a perfect week on the diamond. The Eagles picked up four other wins along the way, including two in SouthWest Suburban Conference Blue play that kept them alive in the chase for a divisional title.
“We feel like we’ve got to run the table and there are no gimmes out there,” Fear said. “Everybody’s got a pitcher who can beat anyone. Hopefully, some teams will beat up on each other and we can slip in there.”
Sandburg (16-5, 5-4), which has now won six in a row, actually features more than one quality arm on its staff. That much was proved on Saturday, when little-used Alec Martinez limited Glenbard South to a pair of hits over the first five innings and set the Eagles up for a 7-2 triumph.
“It was nice to see Alec, who hadn’t pitched in a while, come out and compete and give us a chance to win,” Fear said. “He pumped the strike zone and got a lot of ground balls [for outs].”
Backing Martinez at the plate were Austin Cangelosi, David Cronin and Chris Stearns, who combined to provide seven hits and four RBI. Cangelosi had three of the safeties, while both of Cronin’s were doubles. Also getting into the act was Dan Santiago, who smacked a double and tallied twice.
Sandburg broke a 1-all tie in the third inning and had garnered the remainder of its runs by the end of the fifth frame.
Joliet Central 0
Two days earlier, Bryan Pall, the Eagles’ acknowledged mound ace, stonewalled the Steelmen and made it possible for his own squad to survive its only lackluster offensive display of the week.
While Sandburg had only five singles through the first seven stanzas, that total was four more than Joliet Central managed off Pall, who fanned 11 and threw first-pitch strikes to 21 of the batters he faced. For the season, the junior boasts a 5 ½-to-1 strikeouts-to-walks ratio (40-7) and minuscule 1.30 earned-run average.
“He put us on his back and kept us in the game,” Fear said of Pall. “He was just dominating.”
The lone difficulty Pall encountered occurred in the sixth, when the Steelmen placed runners on second and third with one out after hitting safely for the first time and taking advantage of an Eagles throwing error. But Pall rang up a strikeout and second baseman Cronin made a diving stop of a grounder, which was turned into the inning’s final out.
“We could have lost the game there,” Fear said. “We couldn’t get anything going offensively, but that’s what good teams do: win when they don’t play their best.”
Joliet Central then became the first team to blink when it gave up two runs in the eighth. Adam Zehme and Martinez each belted an RBI double to key the contest’s only rally.
The Raiders had played the Eagles tough the week before, and for the first five innings last Tuesday that was again the case.
Bolingbrook, which had fallen to a 2-0 defeat previously, trailed 4-1. But in the bottom of the sixth, Sandburg suddenly shoved its SWSC Blue foe into an inescapable hole.
A.J. Giron blasted a pinch-hit two-run homer, Alec Nelson drove in two other teammates with a double, and the Eagles plated seven runs in all to turn the contest into a full-blown rout. Sandburg ended the day with 14 hits, four of which went for extra bases.
“We’ve been waiting to get out of that funk and get into a rhythm offensively,” Fear said. “We’ve really been swinging the bats well [of late]. We were striking out with guys on base [before], but we’ve done a better job of putting the ball in play and putting more pressure on defenses.
“The fields are hard, everything’s rock solid, and we made the third baseman and shortstop have to go after hard-hit balls. We had some quality innings where we fought and got guys on base, and we felt we had control even when the score was 4-1. It was a nice effort against a good pitcher.”
Nelson registered three hits, including a second double, and three RBI to pace the Eagles’ potent attack. Matt Shimonis had two hits, including a two-run homer, and four RBI in all, while Cronin contributed a pair of hits and one RBI.
That was more than enough support for Sandburg pitcher Sean Leland, who improved his ledger to 3-0 by throwing five of the game’s six innings and whiffing 10. His ERA dropped to 2.50 on the strength of this latest exhibition.
Except for allowing the Rams to gain some life in the seventh, the Eagles’ Monday outing earned a thumbs-up from Fear and the team’s other coaches.
Certainly, Sandburg’s offense was in high gear, as evidenced by the four- and six-run outbursts it produced in the third and sixth frames, respectively. Headliners for the Eagles included Martinez (two doubles, three RBI), Nelson (two-run double, three RBI), Shimonis (two doubles, one RBI), Santiago (RBI single), Cangelosi (one hit, two walks, three runs) and Zehme (double).
Being able to escape with a win in spite of Reavis’ late noisemaking also reinforced Sandburg coaches’ claims to their players that not too much should have been read into the earlier stumbles versus Lockport and Lincoln-Way Central.
“That was kind of the message we sent,” Fear said. “We played a very good baseball game against Lockport, but we didn’t pitch well in the seventh. We’ve played well in most of our games and we know we’re pretty good, so hopefully the kids don’t put added pressure on themselves because this sport is tough enough to play as it is.”
Oak Forest 7
The Eagles’ bats were booming last Wednesday, as Cangelosi, Nelson and Santiago all powered homers to lift Sandburg past the Bengals in a nonconference affair.
“It’s warming up and the wind was blowing out, but there weren’t any cheap ones,” Fear said. “They’ve got a little pop — Cangelosi’s got some of the fastest hands I’ve seen in high school and Nelson’s a big kid.
“And guys are getting more aggressive by not being in two-strike situations. It’s a snowball effect — we get better pitches to hit by being aggressive and not falling behind [in the count], and then pitchers try to be too fine [in locating their offerings].”
Oak Forest jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the top of the first, but Sandburg immediately responded with a three-spot in its initial at-bat. After the Bengals went up 5-3 in the second, the Eagles tallied the game’s next six runs and moved in front to stay.
Santiago and Nelson both slugged two-run round-trippers and totaled three RBI, while Cangelosi’s solo shot was one of two hits for him. The latter also reached base on a walk. Matthias Dietz was the winning pitcher.
Two SWSC Blue dates with Lincoln-Way East and one more matchup against Joliet Central were on tap for Sandburg this week. Also scheduled were conference crossover tilts versus Andrew and Lincoln-Way West.