Chargers tied for runner-up spot in SWSC Red
If Stagg winds up as second-best, the Chargers won’t be settling for it.
They’ll be celebrating it.
Acknowledging that SouthWest Suburban Conference Red leader Lincoln-Way North is “head-and-shoulders above everyone else,” Stagg coach Matt O’Neill figured going into the 2013 campaign that the other seven schools within the division would be fighting for the runner-up position behind the Phoenix. And as the regular season entered its final week, the Chargers were the team in that spot.
Actually, they shared it with Andrew, a club with which Stagg split a two-game series. The Chargers did likewise against Lincoln-Way West, and largely because of those two wins — plus a sweep of Bradley-Bourbonnais — they were on the cusp of a second-place finish.
Triumphs over Thornwood this past Tuesday and Wednesday would guarantee Stagg no worse than a second-place tie. In addition, the Chargers would keep alive their hopes of compiling a plus-.500 ledger for the entire season.
“That would be a pretty good accomplishment for where we were at [early on],” O’Neill said. “I never thought we’d be in that position.
“Andrew’s a 20-win team, and so is Lincoln-Way West. To split with them was huge, and we’re kind of taking care of business in games we’re supposed to.”
That included last week, when Stagg downed Thornton 9-5 on Monday before moving on to a sweep of the Wildcats’ District 205 sister school, Thornridge. The Falcons were defeated 5-3 on Wednesday and 10-2 on Friday.
Beating Thornton has never been a particularly formidable task for the Chargers (13-17, 8-4), except for last year, when the ’Cats prevailed twice. Those 2012 results gave Stagg plenty of fuel for both 2013 meetings with Thornton, and the Chargers systematically wore down the Wildcats in their most recent encounter.
Thornton jumped ahead 2-0 in the top of the first, but Stagg retaliated with Brett Stratinsky’s two-run homer — his first of three deep blasts during the week — and then tallied twice more in the second inning and three times in the third to get a firm grip on the contest. The Wildcats unintentionally made life easier for the Chargers by gifting them with a number of freebies.
All three of Stagg’s early rallies, for instance, got underway with either a hit batsman or walk. Thornton contributed a total of three free passes and two hit batters to the Chargers’ cause, plus a couple of errors, a wild pitch and passed ball.
Besides Stratinsky’s long ball, Stagg’s part consisted of Peter Angelos’ two-run double and RBI singles from Mike Farnan and Steve Kubiak.
“It’s happened to us on a number of occasions,” O’Neill said, referring to the Wildcats’ presentation of so many handouts. “It’s kind of a momentum thing — if it happens for you, you’re feeling good. But if it goes against you, it’s hard to get back up [emotionally].
“It was definitely good for us because, the way our season has gone, we haven’t been able to put teams away.”
In truth, the Chargers never pushed Thornton completely out of the hunt until the very end. Stagg mixed Stratinsky’s double, Brandon Campbell’s single and two more wild pitches together to generate its final two runs in the sixth, but those were merely a partial offset for the Wildcats’ three-run uprising in the fifth that was highlighted by a two-RBI double.
And Thornton posed another threat in the seventh when it loaded the bases with no one out. Max Strus relieved Chargers starter Vito Cali at that juncture and proceeded to escape the jam unscathed by inducing a grounder back to the mound that became a double play and then ringing up a game-ending strikeout.
The Chargers found themselves in a similarly sticky situation in the seventh inning on Wednesday, as the Falcons tallied twice to reduce their deficit to 5-3 and had the bases loaded. Angelos saved the day by registering a strikeout to bring Thornridge’s last-ditch rally to a halt.
Stagg appeared on its way to a rather easy afternoon after erupting for four runs in its initial turn at the plate. The Chargers added one more marker in the second as Stratinsky (solo homer), Farnan (RBI single), Jeff Goral (RBI single) and Strus (sacrifice fly) all stepped forward for them during those two at-bats.
But the scoring ceased immediately after that, and Stagg also kept optimism high for the Falcons by issuing a total of 11 walks.
“This was not what we wanted,” O’Neill said of the closer-than-expected battle. “But we don’t have the ability to just blow anybody out and it put [added] pressure on us [later].”
Goral collected the pitching win after whiffing eight over 4 2/3 innings.
Friday’s rematch wasn’t the romp the final score indicated, as the Chargers’ four-run seventh inning was mostly responsible for the wide margin of victory. Strus (two-run double), Stratinsky (double), Campbell (RBI single) and Nick Novak (RBI single) all chipped in with key hits in that last plate appearance.
Strus ended the day with three doubles and three RBI, while Stratinsky also slugged a two-run homer as part of his production. Angelos was the pitcher of record after fanning seven and walking just one over five innings. Thornridge managed only six hits off him.
Marian Catholic 6
In between their conquests of Thornridge, the Chargers tangled with defending Class 3A state champion Marian, and they quickly put the Spartans on their heels by building a 5-1 edge.
Four runs in the third inning enabled Stagg to gain a foothold. Campbell (two-run single), Farnan (RBI double) and Angelos (RBI single) were the main men behind the surge, and Farnan’s sacrifice fly brought home the fifth tally one stanza later.
“We haven’t had many four-run outbursts this year,” O’Neill said. “To do it all with hits was good. We made one error and had good clutch hitting, but then we stopped.”
While the Chargers’ offense grew silent, Marian’s was awakening. The Spartans scored once in the fifth inning and twice in the sixth to draw within one, then used a walk, single and double to steal a win away from Stagg in the seventh.
“Our inability to throttle people means we’ve been in a lot of different types of games,” O’Neill said. “This one didn’t end the way we wanted, but it was good for us to play a good team and in a game like this. I hope it benefits us in the end and gives us some motivation going into the playoffs.”
Marian got 10 hits off Strus, but the junior did not give up any free passes, which O’Neill duly noted. The veteran leader also liked the dramatic improvement in the Chargers’ fielding, both here and throughout most of last week.
“I think our defense has been playing well and keeping us in games,” O’Neill said. “Guys are getting in a rhythm and into a routine. If we can do the little things [well], we’ll give ourselves a chance [to be successful].”
Stagg concluded out its week by shutting out Oak Lawn 7-0 on Saturday behind pitcher Ricky Rogers.