Spartans, Astros tied for first after split
Even when Oak Lawn gets rocked, it refuses to roll over.
Case in point: The Spartans were tagged with a 5-1 loss by Shepard last Monday, an outcome that threatened to loosen the former’s hold on first place in the South Suburban Conference Red. And making the situation even more precarious was Oak Lawn’s surrendering of a lead in the fifth inning of Tuesday’s rematch.
“We went down 3-2 and all the guys on the Shepard bench were jumping up and down,” Spartans coach Bill Gerny said. “The momentum had definitely swung [to their side].”
And according to Gerny, his own players were unquestionably reeling, even though ace hurler Bob Kametas was pitching for Oak Lawn.
“Usually when Kametas is on the mound, our guys play with confidence,” Gerny said. “But Coach [Brian] Brandt looked at me and said, ‘These guys are beat.’”
Not so fast. In their very next at-bat, the Spartans moved back in front, using RBI singles by Kevin Zurek and Bill Thome as the payoffs, and Kametas protected that 4-3 advantage the rest of the way to assure Oak Lawn of a split in the two-game series.
“It was by the skin of our teeth, but I was glad to see us come back and take the game,” Gerny said. “If we don’t give them that loss and we take another loss, we’re talking about Shepard as conference champs.”
Instead, the Astros and Spartans were locked in a first-place tie heading into the final week of the conference schedule. Oak Lawn (12-12, 11-6) remained there despite an ensuing 4-2 setback against Oak Forest, and both teams still had Reavis, Richards and Evergreen Park nipping at their heels.
“There’ve been no gimme games,” Gerny said. “We played Evergreen Park [the week before] and they’re right in it, and we played Shepard and they’re right in it. This is the time of season seniors drift away [because of graduation] and you have to rein them back in, but this adds a little more interest to the baseball season.
“I’m shocked that with six losses, we’re still in this position. It’s like we can’t even give it away.”
Ironically, that’s essentially what happened on Thursday, when the Spartans failed to hold onto a 2-1 edge versus the Bengals. Three outs away from a key victory, Oak Lawn couldn’t retire Oak Forest until the latter had surged in front by a deuce. Two Spartans errors, a four-pitch walk, passed ball and bloop hit all contributed to the Bengals’ seventh-inning rally.
“Aside from the Argo game [a few weeks before], this was the toughest [conference] loss we’ve had,” Gerny said. “Aside from [not enough] clutch hitting, we were playing pretty much a perfect game before that. I don’t know if nerves got to us, but we made mental errors [in the late going].
“The kids took it really hard and it’s good to know they care, but a loss like this is probably the best thing for us at this time. I know it sounds funny when we’re trying to win a conference championship, but we’re going to play games like this in the playoffs, so it’s probably good to get the nerves out now.”
Prior to the late meltdown, Oak Lawn had executed well. It managed only five hits, but one of those was Matt Dunne’s RBI single in the first inning. The Spartans tallied the go-ahead run in the bottom of the sixth on Mitch Swatek’s sacrifice fly.
“Oak Forest isn’t a team you’re going to score a bunch of runs on, so we didn’t get a lot of chances,” Gerny said. “But all we needed [after that] was three more outs.”
Swatek pitched the first six stanzas and allowed just two hits before Dunne relieved him one batter into the seventh. Dunne absorbed the loss.
Oak Lawn 1-4
Astros hurler Nick Medlicott continued his recent run of excellence by stopping the Spartans on five hits and laying the groundwork for his club’s success last Monday.
“He was keeping everybody off-balance,” Gerny said. “I don’t know how many [different] pitches the guy’s got, but he must have thrown four.”
The lone bit of damage Oak Lawn managed to inflict on Medlicott — who triumphed for the fourth time in a row since returning from an injury — occurred in the first inning. Dunne singled in Kametas (single) with a run, but the Spartans could have inflicted more pain as Chris Rafacz had opened the frame with a double. Too-aggressive baserunning, however, led to a putout.
Oak Lawn also squandered Swatek’s double and an eventual bases-loaded scenario in the fifth. A strikeout concluded that at-bat.
“They had timely hits and we didn’t,” Gerny said. “The bounces went their way on Monday for sure, but I don’t think we put up much of a fight.”
The Spartans wasted a 10-strikeout effort by Dunne on the hill. The junior did not issue any walks and gave up just six hits.
Jeremy Dryier stroked three hits, including two doubles, and had three RBI to lead Shepard. Bobby Peterka and Adam Samad each added an RBI single.
“We’re getting our hits and taking advantage of other teams’ mistakes,” Astros coach Frank DiFoggio said, “but it’s very rare that we’re going to be putting up more than five or six runs a game. That’s not us, but for the most part we’re playing good defense and throwing strikes.
“There’s a nice competition between our three starting pitchers. They all want to do well and push each other, and the pitchers are almost competing against each other’s outings. There’s a lot of familiarity with these guys that’s helping us now.”
Kametas collected his sixth win without a defeat by striking out 11 Shepard batters last Tuesday while scattering eight hits and walking three. In addition to the aforementioned RBI hits by Zurek and Thome in the fifth, Oak Lawn also garnered runs on Rafacz’s infield hit in the second inning and Dunne’s single in the third.
Dryier threw well for Shepard in a losing cause as he fanned eight in six stanzas.
“He and Kametas matched each other blow for blow,” DiFoggio said. “They both were pitching their hearts out, and it was a game where somebody was going to take a tough loss.
“It was really well played on both sides for the most part. Those were two really good games between us and Oak Lawn.”
Dryier and Brendan Herrman both had RBI hits for the Astros in their three-run fifth inning, while the third marker resulted from a bad throw on a steal attempt.
Oak Lawn 0
Venturing outside the SSC didn’t benefit the Spartans on Saturday, as they got blanked by the Chargers. Stagg tallied three times in its initial plate appearance, then tacked on runs in the fifth, sixth and seventh frames.
“It was disappointing to see,” Gerny said. “I think [our] guys are pressing and trying to do too much [because] we’re getting very little production from anyone in the order. Stagg got their bunts down and was moving runners along, but our guys were taking hacks at Southwest Highway and the ball was getting blown back in [toward the infield].”
Ricky Rogers went the distance on the hill to pocket the pitching win for the Chargers. He held Oak Lawn to three hits, struck out two and walked three while throwing only 88 pitches.
“I think Ricky has proved [this season] that when you throw [a lot of] strikes and allow your defense to work, you can win,” Stagg coach Matt O’Neill said. “I think our defense has been playing well and keeping us in games. Guy are getting in a rhythm and into a routine, and we didn’t make any errors.”
Among the Chargers’ pivotal hitters were Brett Stratinsky (two hits, sacrifice fly, two RBI), Brendan Loughlin (two hits, sacrifice fly, two RBI), Peter Angelos (two hits, one RBI) and Mike Farnan (two hits, including a double).
In a previous meeting with the Rams, the Astros squandered a double-digit lead, so DiFoggio could be excused if he didn’t consider anything a done deal last Wednesday after Shepard built an early 4-0 advantage over Reavis.
“We were extremely nervous,” DiFoggio said. “The one thing about Reavis is they don’t quit until the umpire tells them to go home. They just grind things out and they’re always a threat.”
And sure enough, the Rams bit into the Astros’ lead by scoring twice in the fifth. Shepard got one of those runs back in its portion of the same inning, but Reavis tallied again in the top of the seventh to keep the heat on.
“They made it a little nerve-wracking,” DiFoogio said. “They almost pulled that magic out of their hat again.”
However, “almost” was as bad as it would get for the Astros (14-13, 10-6), who hung on for a critical victory. Bobby Doherty (two hits, two RBI) and Christian Araiza (two-run single) were Shepard’s hitting heroes, while Matt Schmeski and Jack Garetto handled the pitching chores.
Schmeski pocketed the win after tossing five innings of four-hit ball.
Two innings into last Thursday’s confrontation with the Hawks, the Astros were in front by only one at 4-3. While that scenario didn’t immediately send DiFoggio into panic mode, it did illustrate the fact that Shepard players weren’t functioning at the same level they had been in the three previous contests.
“Playing every day is a grind when every game means something,” DiFoggio said. “Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday took so much out of us that if we played somebody a little better [than Hillcrest], we’d have had our hands full. Everybody was just exhausted.”
The Astros, though, weren’t too tired to finally pull away from the Hawks and establish a much more comfortable edge for themselves. Shepard did so by scoring four times in the third inning and seven times in the fourth.
Scott (two hits, including a two-run homer, three RBI), Araiza (two doubles, three RBI), Medlicott (two hits, double, three runs, one RBI) and Peterka (two-run double, three RBI) were the Astros’ main men at the plate. Also lending a hand were Kevin Knoerzer (two-run single), Samad (RBI triple), Mark Albrecht (double), Nick Schwartzkopf (RBI single) and Sam Hermanas (sacrifice fly).
Shepard amassed a baker’s dozen worth of hits, which made life easy for Jake Hart on the hill. After having pitched just twice in the previous month, Hart struggled with his control early but then settled in and wound up with 11 strikeouts.
After taking down Chicago Christian 5-2 in a Friday meeting of Palos Heights neighbors, the Astros closed out their busy week by falling to an 8-3 defeat against Rich Central on Saturday. Three Shepard errors helped the Olympians gain a foothold and seize control of the contest.
Back-to-back clashes with Evergreen Park this past Monday and Tuesday kicked off another full week for the Astros.
Oak Lawn 100 000 0 - 1
Shepard 120 200 x - 5
Oak Lawn 2B: Rafacz, Swatek. RBI: Dunne. LP: Dunne (3-4).
Shepard 2B: Dryier 2, Schmeski 2. RBI: Dryier 3, Peterka, Samad. WP Medlicott (4-3).
Shepard 000 030 0 - 3
Oak Lawn 011 020 x - 4
Shepard RBI: Dryier, Hermann. LP: Dryier (2-3).
Oak Lawn RBI: Dunne, Rafacz, Thome, Zurek. WP: Kametas (6-0).
Oak Forest 001 000 3 - 4
Oak Lawn 100 001 0 - 2
Oak Lawn RBI: Dunne, Swatek. LP: Dunne (3-5).
Stagg 300 021 1 - 7
Oak Lawn 000 000 0 - 0
Stagg 2B: M. Farnan, Rankin. RBI: Loughlin 2, Stratinsky 2, Angelos. WP: Rogers (2-2).
Oak Lawn LP: Witkowski (0-3).
Reavis 000 020 1 - 3
Shepard 130 010 x - 5
Shepard RBI: Araiza 2, Doherty 2. WP: Schmeski (3-2).
Hillcrest 210 02 - 5
Shepard 314 7x - 15
Shepard 2B: Araiza 2, Albrecht, Medlicott, Peterka. 3B: Samad. HR: Scott. RBI: Araiza 3, Peterka 3, Scott 3, Knoerzer 2, Hermanas, Medlicott, Samad, Schwartzkopf. WP: Hart (1-1).