Vikings lock up league title with three wins
Much more of this, and Chicago Catholic League Blue teams may soon start lobbying for a return to the White Division for St. Laurence.
That’s where the Vikings resided prior to the 2011 campaign, and although they became a dominant program in that division, some doubts existed as to how St. Laurence would handle a move up to the more-competitive CCL Blue. It’s actually gone quite well — better, in fact, than many probably expected.
After sharing the divisional crown with Providence Catholic in their inaugural Blue season, the Vikings fell one game shy of the Celtics last spring. However, St. Laurence regained its residence in the penthouse last week, and in 2013 it has sole ownership of the championship.
The Vikings assured themselves of that outcome on Saturday by rolling over Brother Rice 10-0 to complete a two-game sweep of the Crusaders. St. Laurence also prevailed 4-1 last Tuesday, a win that followed an 8-1 road conquest of Loyola Academy the day before and avenged a previous loss to the Ramblers.
“We knew what an important game it was, especially after not playing very well on [the] Saturday [before],” Vikings coach Pete Lotus said of the victory over Loyola. “It was a tough loss for us the previous Saturday, for a lot of reasons, and I’m sure it laid on everyone’s minds. I was very, very happy with the way our guys responded for a game we really needed.”
Happy also described Lotus’ attitude after the latest title had been clinched.
“It’s a great accomplishment for our guys,” he said. “It’s a whole different set of challenges than we first had a few years ago when we started in terms of expectations, but it still feels good.
“We’ve played very, very well for most of the season. They put a lot of work in and I couldn’t be prouder.”
The final leg of St. Laurence’s journey began in Wilmette, where it jumped out to a 2-0 lead over Loyola in the first stanza as Mike Kornacker socked a two-run homer. The Vikings then picked up at least one run in three of their next five at-bats to put the Ramblers in deep trouble.
Stepping forward offensively for St. Laurence (22-6, 14-2) in addition to Kornacker were Brad Wood (RBI double), Nate Tholl (two hits, one RBI), Roger Wilson (double), Kevin White (RBI single), Mike Miller (RBI single) and Zach Lewis (two sacrifice flies).
“To get some runs early was big,” Lotus said. “We talked about not having one of those games where we get a little complacent because we think our pitcher’s not going to give up many runs. When there’s that urgency to score, I think it comes a little easier.”
Wood was the winning pitcher after firing a four-hitter over six frames and fanning six. The Ramblers’ hit total actually eclipsed those of the last two teams that faced Wood, who threw a no-hitter and one-hitter in those previous mound assignments.
St. Laurence 4-10
Brother Rice 1-0
Last Tuesday’s matchup between the Vikings and Crusaders was the kind of game Lotus anticipated. St. Laurence collected only six hits off Brother Rice’s pitching duo of Wendall Ferguson and Mike Enriquez, while the Crusaders recorded eight against the combination of Kornacker, Kyle Estand and Lewis, but stranded 13 baserunners.
“They’re obviously always going to be tough,” Lotus said of Rice. “One [reason is] because they’re a good team and there’s also a rivalry [between the schools].”
As has happened so frequently this spring, the Vikings managed to draw first blood on a foe. This time, Lewis’ double and a bases-loaded walk to Wilson supplied two opening-inning runs. St. Laurence received three free passes in all and Miller also hit safely in the stanza.
The Vikes didn’t pad their lead until the fifth, when Lewis slugged his second double of the day to chase in Tholl (single). Estand, who appears to finally be fully recovered from a lingering ankle injury, then slammed an RBI triple in the sixth.
“Those two runs were huge,” Lotus said. “Obviously, in a 2-0 game anything can happen.”
Estand also did his part on the hill after relieving Kornacker in the sixth. Estand entered into a bases-loaded, one-out situation, but engineered an escape for his team by recording a strikeout and inducing an inning-ending groundout.
“Coming in that situation showed a great deal of courage by Kyle,” Lotus said. “It was his first appearance in a month and you don’t know what you’re going to get after not pitching for a month, so I was very happy for him. He’s a great luxury to have and it’s great to have him back.”
Estand needed a little bit of help himself in the seventh after Kevin Biondic’s double put the Crusaders on the board. Enter Lewis, who proceeded to whiff the next three batters and lock up the victory for St. Laurence.
Saturday’s rematch in Chicago contained far less drama. The Vikings saw to that by constructing a 5-0 edge after only two innings and then finishing off Rice with a five-spot in the top of the seventh.
“I like the games where we bust out [offensively],” said Lotus, whose squad registered 15 hits. “We played real well and swung the bats well. The key is to get some runs early — scoring five with Zach on the mound is obviously big.”
In triumphing for the sixth time, Lewis surrendered just three hits to the Crusaders and slipped third strikes past 10 batters. Reliever Alex Hitney was equally dominating in his one-inning relief stint as he struck out the side.
“Our pitching has kept us in games all year,” Lotus said, “and I don’t think that’s going away.”
Lewis aided his own cause by driving in a run with his first-inning groundout, but the Vikings’ scoring began in earnest one stanza later. St. Laurence stroked four hits, with Wood’s double and Ryan Rybakowski’s single both being good for two RBI.
White hit safely twice during the Vikings’ five-run seventh. His double started things off and his RBI single capped the rally; in between, St. Laurence received input from Kornacker (two-run single), T.J. Marik (RBI single), Lewis (single) and pinch-hitter Nick Ciannella (sacrifice fly).
Brian Musielak took the pitching loss for Rice and also provided the Crusaders’ lone extra-base hit off Lewis. Before the game, former Rice standouts Mike McQuillan (Class of 2008) and Greg Moss (2003) were inducted into the school’s Athletic Hall of Fame.
St. Laurence 2
Oak Forest 1
Sandwiched between the Vikings’ two encounters with Brother Rice was one against the Bengals on Friday. Oak Forest actually outhit St. Laurence 5-4, but the latter made a third-inning tally stand up as the deciding factor.
Kornacker had half of the Vikings’ hits, including an RBI single in the first. Wood’s groundout pushed in St. Laurence’s second marker, and both rallies got fueled by a hit batsman and stolen base.
“It was a tough day to hit,” Lotus said. “It was pretty cold and we didn’t swing real well. Luckily, we got some great pitching efforts.”
Rob Gutierrez earned the victory after going five innings and whiffing three. Estand and Hitney each threw one stanza of hitless relief.
“I was a little worried about this game, but I scheduled it to not have such a big gap between [the two Rice contests],” Lotus said. “We wanted to get some live at-bats, and being in those [difficult] situations will help us get ready for the playoffs.”
Brother Rice 7
St. Rita 3
The Crusaders (17-13, 9-7) only triumphed once last week, but that lone win was a huge gift to St. Laurence.
By beating the Mustangs on Monday, Rice pushed them a game behind the Vikings in the divisional standings. When St. Rita then split two contests with Mt. Carmel later in the week, St. Laurence had first place in the Catholic League Blue to itself.
After spotting the Mustangs a 1-0 advantage in the top of the first, the Crusaders tallied seven times over the next five innings to take control of the proceedings. Biondic was Rice’s ringleader with a 3-for-4, three-RBI performance, while Andrew Dyke had two hits and scored twice.
Musielak (two RBI), Kevin Sullivan (one hit, three walks, two runs) and Luke Liebforth (RBI single) were other influential members of the Crusaders’ offense.
Musielak also made his presence felt on the mound, where he effectively scattered eight hits while throwing a complete game. He struck out four batters and was backed by an errorless defense.
De La Salle 3
Brother Rice 2
A run in the bottom of the eighth boosted the Meteors to a nonconference victory over the Crusaders on Friday at Benedictine University.
Rice managed just three hits in the contest, one of which was Redic Richardson’s RBI single in the fourth. The Crusaders also notched their other marker in that same inning on Erich Lieser’s sacrifice fly, which followed a walk to Biondic, Ferguson’s single and a sacrifice bunt.
Biondic worked the first six stanzas for Rice on the hill and fanned six. Reliever Mike Gianakos got pinned with the loss, although the run he gave up in the eighth was unearned.
Andrean (Ind.) 5
Brother Rice 1
A visit to the campus of Notre Dame University didn’t produce a positive result for the Crusaders last Thursday, as the 59ers rallied late.
Rice went ahead 1-0 in the third when Lieser doubled in Richardson, who had singled. The Crusaders, however, totaled just four other hits in the game.
Andrean finally overtook Rice in the bottom of the fifth and then picked up three more markers in its ensuing plate appearance. None of the 59ers’ runs was earned as the Crusaders made four errors.
Ian McGinnis took the loss for Rice, which met Montini and Shepard this past Monday and Wednesday, respectively, before participating in this weekend’s Steve Bajenski Tournament.