Vikings highlight so-so week by routing Phoenix
For much of the 2013 high school season, Lincoln-Way North has been the talk of south-suburban baseball.
Last Thursday, St. Laurence played the role of silencer. And making the Vikings’ unexpected 14-0 romp past the Phoenix at Benedictine University even more satisfying for everyone involved was that the lion’s share of damage was inflicted while Kevin Smith toed the rubber for Lincoln-Way North.
Smith spent the first three seasons of his prep career at St. Laurence, where he attained all-area status and became one of the Chicago Catholic League’s top performers. His offseason decision to transfer to the public school closest to his residence brought Smith to the Phoenix, for whom he has also excelled.
But the other team that knows him best was unfazed by his current-year exploits. Smith lasted into the sixth inning, but departed after being unable to register an out in that frame. Already ahead 6-0 at that juncture, the Vikes amassed eight runs during their last at-bat to apply the finishing touches to a slaughter-rule success.
“We played unbelievably well,” St. Laurence coach Pete Lotus said. “I thought it was one of our best all-around games of the entire season.
“The intensity was there, for sure, from the start of the game to the end. One through nine [in the batting order] hit the ball and we played tremendous defense.”
Lotus acknowledged that his athletes were stoked by Smith’s presence, and beating him created a very tangible sense of achievement for them. However, he insisted he didn’t invest anything extra in the contest.
“I stopped thinking about Kevin the day he left,” Lotus said. “I can’t put my focus on someone who isn’t there. That wouldn’t be fair to the kids we have.
“I know it was more [of a big deal] for a lot of people and, win or lose against Lincoln-Way North, it was going to be an emotional game. But in reality, it’s only one game, and this was no different to me than the one against Downers Grove South [last Tuesday]. We try to preach to our guys about consistency because, at this part of the season, we can’t afford any letdowns.”
There certainly weren’t any in store for the Vikings (24-8) on Thursday. Included among their 13 hits were four by Brad Wood, who also drove in two runs. Winning pitcher Mike Kornacker and Zach Lewis both slammed two-RBI doubles, while T.J. Marik stroked a two-run single.
Knocking in one run apiece with singles were Mike Miller, Pat Haugh, Nate Tholl, Ryan Rybakowski and Roger Wilson. On the mound, Kornacker raised his record to 6-1 by firing a four-hitter and whiffing six.
St. Laurence 6
Brother Rice 4
The Vikings had all of about a half-hour to savor their momentous win over Lincoln-Way North before they had to tangle with the Crusaders for the third time in just over a week in another Steve Bajenski Tournament contest.
St. Laurence had ruled in both of the two previous matchups, the second of which wrapped up a Catholic League Blue title for it. With those outcomes still fresh and serving as motivation, Brother Rice wasn’t about to give in quietly to the Vikings.
And indeed, the Crusaders hung tough, although they never did hold a lead. St. Laurence got up 2-0 in the top of the first on Lewis’ two-RBI double and survived a couple Rice threats later on.
“We didn’t play our best game, but I thought our guys handled it pretty well,” Lotus said of his club’s two assignments on the same day. “To have them concentrate for 14 innings after a full day at school, that says a lot about them.”
Miller’s fielder’s choice handed the Vikes a 3-0 advantage in the third stanza, but the Crusaders fought back with a deuce in their portion of the fourth as Wendall Ferguson (double) and Andrew Dyke delivered RBI hits. The two squads then swapped solo tallies in the sixth, St. Laurence using Kevin White’s sacrifice fly to plate Wilson (double) and Rice countering with a Dyke sacrifice fly that brought in Kevin Biondic (double).
Miller (single) and Marik (sacrifice fly) concluded the Vikings’ scoring in the seventh, and those insurance runs offset the Crusaders’ last bit of noisemaking, which occurred by mixing a walk, Erich Lieser’s double and Luke Liebforth’s sacrifice fly.
Wood earned the pitching triumph by striking out six and scattering nine hits. Ian McGinnis took the loss for Rice.
Mt. Carmel 11
St. Laurence 1
The Vikings suffered through a rare sub-par effort on Friday, as four errors sabotaged them against the Caravan in another Bajenski Tournament outing. Mt. Carmel scored three runs in its initial turn at bat and, according to Lotus, St. Laurence “never really recovered and didn’t have much in the way of offense.”
“It was disappointing to come out and play like that,” he said, “and it was that bad. We played like we just got off a plane. We didn’t have energy from the start.”
Lewis’ RBI single chased in the Vikings’ lone marker in the sixth inning, but that wasn’t enough to prolong the game as the Caravan had already piled up enough runs to possess a double-digit lead.
St. Rita 5
St. Laurence 2
Another loss was doled out to the Vikings on Saturday, this time by the Mustangs, who made the most of their five hits off Lewis. Three of the bloop variety were part of St. Rita’s three-run fourth inning that put it in front to stay.
St. Laurence remained shaky in the field, as evidenced by three more errors, and it managed just four hits for the second straight day.
“I thought we could have done a better job and I was pretty upset with our guys,” Lotus said. “But the more I thought about it, it had to be tough on our guys to play that many games in three days. I was exhausted and I didn’t play a single inning.”
Lewis’ first-inning single and third-inning double supplied the Vikings’ RBI, but those weren’t enough to salvage a triumph for him on the mound. Lewis fanned six and now has 73 strikeouts in only 46 innings while carrying a minuscule 0.30 earned-run average for the season.
While Lotus forgave his team’s drop-off later in the week, he didn’t want St. Laurence players to accept that without reaction as they prepared for the postseason. The Vikings were slated to meet either Washington or Juarez this past Wednesday in a Class 4A Fenwick Regional semifinal.
“We’ve pitched and played defense and, for the most part, hit the ball well, but we can’t have lackadaisical days,” Lotus said. “We need to find that middle ground, where we stay consistent after playing in emotional games.”
Downers Grove South 8
St. Laurence 3
Lotus thought the Vikings endured a letdown last Tuesday when they fell short against the Mustangs. Coming off its conference title-clinching performance of the week before, St. Laurence spotted Downers Grove South a 4-0 lead early and was unable to ever catch up.
“It’s tough to get up for every game — we found that out,” Lotus said. “We didn’t play well on Tuesday. The energy wasn’t there.”
And, in Lotus’ opinion, opponents are particularly targeting the Vikings because of the latter’s league affiliation.
“There’s so much publicity about the Catholic League Blue,” he said. “I think it’s the best conference in the state, but others probably don’t think so, and teams in other conferences want to show that. We’re dealing with that every day, and if we don’t match that will to win, we’re going to have tough days.”
Tuesday counted as one of those, despite clutch hits from Miller (RBI double), Wood (RBI single) and Kornacker (RBI single). St. Laurence managed only three other safeties and was guilty of three errors on the defensive side, a negative combo for starting pitcher Kyle Estand, who surrendered three earned runs over four frames and got pinned with his first loss of the season.
Brother Rice 12
Peoria Notre Dame 1
The setback against St. Laurence was the Crusaders’ only stumble in the Bajenski Tournament, and they began their revival with a romp past the Irish on Friday. A seven-run fourth inning enabled Rice (21-14) to close out Peoria Notre Dame prematurely via the slaughter rule.
Biondic (two hits, two runs) and Redic Richardson (two hits, including a double, one run) both garnered three RBI to lead a group of six players who had entries in that statistical category. Ferguson (double) and Dyke (two hits) supplied two RBI apiece, while Lieser and Brian Musielak both knocked in one
Musielak also earned his seventh pitching victory by throwing a three-hitter.
Brother Rice 11
New Trier 9
The Crusaders secured fifth place in the tourney for themselves by outlasting the Trevians in a high-scoring affair on Saturday.
Rice put itself in prime position for success by exploding for eight runs in the third inning, which gave it a 9-4 lead. The margin grew to 11-4 in the top of the sixth before New Trier fought back with a five-spot in the bottom of that same stanza.
Reliever Mike Gianakos finally ended the Trevians’ rally and then pitched an uneventful seventh to notch his fourth save. Mike Enriquez bagged the win after striking out five, surrendering two earned runs and scattering eight hits over the first five frames.
Biondic and Lieser went a combined 6-for-7 at the plate to lead the Crusaders’ charge. Each player included a double among his three hits, and between them they drove in five runs and scored three others.
Also lending a hand were Ferguson (two hits, triple, three RBI, two runs), Kevin Sullivan (two hits, three runs), Dyke (double, RBI, run) and Liebforth (one hit, one RBI, one run).
Brother Rice 11
One day before traveling to Benedictine for the start of the Bajenski Tournament, the Crusaders bashed the Astros. Five-run uprisings in both the third and fourth innings set the table for Rice’s mercy-rule triumph.
Dyke’s homer actually got the Crusaders’ scoring underway in the second, and he ended the day with two hits, three RBI and three runs. Lieser (two RBI), Kyle Hilliard (two RBI), Biondic and Musielak all joined Dyke at the two-hit level. Other RBI men included Richardson (single), Gianakos (sacrifice fly) and Danny Roche (single).
Biondic recorded the pitching win by stopping Shepard on five hits and whiffing one. The Astros ruined his shutout bid by plating an earned run in the top of the fourth. A bad throw following Nick Schwartzkopf’s single accounted for the marker.
Schwartzkopf’s double was Shepard’s lone extra-base hit. Brendan Hermann absorbed the defeat for the Astros.
Brother Rice 4
Also coming up short against the Crusaders were the Broncos, who were blanked by Enriquez last Monday. Montini scratched out just three hits against Enriquez, who struck out nine and walked only one.
Rice tallied twice in the fourth to provide its hurler with the only runs he’d really need. Biondic’s leadoff double eventually led to the first marker, as he crossed the plate on Dyke’s fielder’s choice. Hilliard then laid down a squeeze to score Richardson, who had drawn a walk.
Liebforth’s double and Musielak’s single were responsible for the Crusaders’ third run, and following that fifth-inning tally was one in the seventh, which materialized on Dyke’s sacrifice fly.
Rice meets Providence Catholic in a Class 4A Sandburg Regional semifinal contest on Friday.