Perfect week lifts Spartans to SSC crown
Oak Lawn is first at last, and it’s there by itself.
A season-long jockeying for position within the South Suburban Conference Red finally ended last week, and the group standing tallest was the Spartans. Oak Lawn broke a first-place tie with Shepard by beating Tinley Park last Tuesday while the Astros were losing a rematch with Evergreen Park, and the Spartans then sealed the deal on an outright divisional championship by knocking off TF North 7-2 on Thursday.
Thus, Bill Gerny became the second consecutive Oak Lawn baseball coach to capture a title in his inaugural season, following the course traveled by Brian Clifton in 2009. Clifton, who stepped down as head coach before the 2013 campaign, was in attendance on Thursday to honor assistant coach Brian Brandt, who is leaving the program after a long association with it and had his jersey retired.
Also on hand was former Spartans coach Skip Sullivan, for whom both Brandt and Clifton played, as well as a number of other athletes from past seasons. Gerny enjoyed the pregame celebration, but was just as enamored of the postgame one that followed Oak Lawn’s clinching of the championship.
“I would not have believed it at all,” Gerny said, when asked if he thought of his club as a title contender prior to the start of the season. “It’s a tough conference because you’ve got teams known for baseball, like Reavis and Richards, and I knew we were going to struggle with our hitting, so I assumed — incorrectly — that other teams’ pitching would be tough for us to handle.
“One thing we did that nobody else did was sweep Richards, and we were the only team on either side [of the SSC] to beat Lemont. Those were the most pivotal things, and I couldn’t be happier for our guys.”
The Spartans (15-12, 13-6) got ahead of TF North right away, using RBI hits from Matt Dunne, Bob Kametas and Mitch Swatek to fuel a four-run first inning. Brandon Quillin also drove in a run with his fielder’s choice.
That was part of a 12-hit day for Oak Lawn, which came on the heels of a 14-hit outburst versus Tinley.
“They played like conference champs,” Gerny said of his athletes. “Guys are having much better at-bats and making solid contact, and they played really loose on Thursday.”
The Spartans added single tallies in the third, fourth and fifth stanzas, with RBI being generated by Matt Witkowski (sacrifice fly), Kametas (groundout) and Billy Thome (single). Also contributing to the cause were Chris Rafacz (fourth-inning triple, run scored) and Marcin Krzyciak (fifth-inning double, run scored).
That was more than enough support for Dunne on the hill. The junior pitcher, who has been overshadowed by Kametas this spring, was in complete control against the Meteors as he fired a four-hitter, struck out six and did not walk anyone. Only one of the two runs he gave up in the fifth inning was earned.
“I wouldn’t trade our pitchers for anyone else’s in the conference,” Gerny said. “They kept us in every conference game. TF North doesn’t have the strongest team we’ve seen this year, but they didn’t just roll nine bodies out there. Dunne stepped up and shut them down.”
Oak Lawn 6
Tinley Park 1
Even more dominant was Kametas last Tuesday. He threw third strikes past 11 Titans batters and tossed a four-hitter as the Spartans guaranteed themselves no worse than a share of the divisional crown with a win.
“They weren’t a bad team by any stretch,” Gerny said. “Tinley had a similar conference record to ours, but with Kametas on the mound, we look like a different ball team. Guys don’t get too nervous because there’s room for error and it takes a lot of pressure off the offense, and we just play with more confidence.
“I don’t think anybody in the conference had a pitcher up to Bob’s level. He’s a power pitcher who can shut guys down.”
Oak Lawn was up just 2-1 after four innings, but gradually pulled away from the Titans by tallying four times over the fifth and sixth frames. Six extra-base hits were featured among the Spartans’ 14 safeties, two of the biggest being Kametas’ two-RBI triple and Quillin’s homer.
Also lending a hand were Thome (two doubles, one RBI), Krzyciak (double), Mitch Swatek (double) and Rafacz (two RBI on sacrifice flies).
“With the number of hits we had, we should have had 10 or 12 runs,” Gerny said. “We ran ourselves out of a couple innings. Part of that is probably that we haven’t had a lot of scoring opportunities [this season].”
Gerny reminded his players afterward what their conquest of Tinley meant to them in regard to their pursuit of the conference championship.
“We told them, ‘If you guys win out the rest of the week, you’re champs and nobody can take that away from you,’” he said.
Oak Lawn 4
Beating the Eagles Saturday afternoon in Franklin Park meant nothing to the Spartans as far as the conference crown was concerned, but Gerny felt it was a good tune-up for the playoffs, which begin today against Reavis in the Class 4A Mt. Carmel Regional.
If so, then future Oak Lawn opponents better be wary of Kametas, who remained unbeaten on the year by pitching four innings of one-hit ball and fanning seven. Only one Leyden batter was able to coax a free pass from him.
“He was lights out — the kids on Leyden couldn’t touch him,” Gerny said of Kametas. “He’s so confident out there that once he gets on a roll, he deflates the other team. He overmatched their batters.”
Swatek encountered some difficulties in the final frame of his three-inning relief appearance. Gerny blamed it on a shifting strike zone, but whatever the reason, the Eagles reduced the Spartans’ 4-0 edge to 4-3 and filled the sacks before Swatek retired them for the last time on a pair of flyouts.
Oak Lawn plated three runs in the second inning and added what became a crucial marker in the top of the seventh. Credited with RBI were Witkowski (two-run single), Thome (single) and Kametas (double). Kametas chased in Rafacz after the latter singled and then stole two bases.
Before squaring off with Reavis for the third time this season, the Spartans clashed with Andrew and Morton this past Monday and Tuesday, respectively, to wrap up the regular season.
“We could practice those two days, but facing live pitching is so much better to prepare you for the playoffs,” Gerny said.