Payback the word in opening week.
Spring frustration gave way to summer exaltation.
Not all wins and losses are created equal, of course. Most baseball players and coaches, for example, would gladly swap mid-June accomplishments for late-May success, the kind that keeps a team moving forward in the state playoffs.
However, payback brings about a sense of satisfaction no matter when it’s doled out, and that held true for three local squads last week. Oak Lawn, Sandburg and Chicago Christian all turned the tables on familiar foes, ones that reigned supreme in springtime meetings.
The most painful of those setbacks undoubtedly was administered to the Spartans. South Suburban Conference Red rival Reavis did so in a Class 4A Mt. Carmel Regional semifinal matchup, which brought an unexpectedly quick halt to Oak Lawn’s postseason stay and overshadowed the Spartans’ run to a divisional title right before that.
The two programs met up again last Wednesday with far less at stake, but Oak Lawn no less determined to make amends, particularly since the Rams were throwing the same pitcher they had used in the playoff contest. And the Spartans did exactly that.
Oak Lawn coach Bill Gerny’s strategy for the summer is to use his projected regulars for four innings and then freely substitute after that. In the earliest stages against Reavis, the Spartans jumped out in front and never lost the lead, eventually bagging an 8-6 victory.
Oak Lawn chalked up four runs in its initial at-bat, as five straight players hit safely. Registering RBI were Mitch Swatek (two-run double), Matt Dunne (single) and Joe Dodaro (single).
“The juniors who are going to be seniors came out mad,” Gerny said. “They still took it personally that they lost [in the tournament].
“We were kind of worried, wondering whether or not [the Rams] would have a psychological hold on us, but that obviously didn’t happen. That same pitcher who started for Reavis in the regional game only lasted one inning, and that was nice to see.”
The Rams gradually narrowed the gap, thanks to five unearned runs, but they could never catch the Spartans. Gerny pegged Ray Walker as his most effective mound man after the latter threw three innings of scoreless ball.
Oak Lawn entered a tournament at Richards on Friday, where it began a three-game appearance with an 11-9 eight-inning triumph over St. Ignatius. Swatek’s double snapped a 9-all tie and also handed him a pitching win in relief.
While the Spartans required some late heroics to subdue the Wolfpack, they again operated with a lead in hand right from the outset as hits by Dodaro, Kevin Zurek and Brandon Quillin helped Oak Lawn build a 4-0 advantage in its initial plate appearance.
“That’s really been taking a lot of stress off our pitchers, which we didn’t do in the spring,” Gerny said, referring to his club’s offensive handiwork.
Friday’s second encounter, against St. Charles East, didn’t work out quite so well for the Spartans, but Gerny still found something to like in a 7-0 defeat: the joint showings of Swatek and Matt Witkowski on the mound. Between them, the duo threw six innings and surrendered only two runs over that span.
“Those are both pitchers we plan to rely on heavily next year, so they did a really good job against a top team,” Gerny said. “We had problems throwing strikes and getting ahead of hitters in the seventh. If we do that, they will take advantage of it.”
The Spartans collected just five hits, but Walker reached base twice, once by drawing a free pass. Gerny called the senior-to-be a “middle infielder [and] pitcher who we need to step up next year.”
Oak Lawn completed its stay at Richards by getting tagged with a 13-3 setback by TF South on Saturday. The Spartans were within 6-3 of the Rebels through five stanzas, but “then the wheels came off and we ended up getting blown out.”
“Our mental approach was not very strong in this game,” Gerny said. “We were not thinking ahead on defense, our at-bats weren’t productive except for one inning, and we just weren’t ‘up’ for the game.”
Chris Donato pitched four innings and gave up three earned runs, but that was an improvement over his spring-season outing versus TF South. In that earlier contest, Dodato failed to register an out before being removed.
Quillin and Witkowski both smacked doubles for Oak Lawn, which tallied all of its runs in the fifth, thanks in part to a brief bout of wildness by the Rebels’ hurler.
“Those were the two sophomores that were major contributors [in the spring],” Gerny said of Quillin and Witkowski. “And it appears as though they are getting much better at a quick rate.”
Through four games, Quillin leads the Spartans in hitting with a .546 average. Witkowski is batting .444, Dunne .385 and Swatek .364.
The Eagles have a long diamond history with District 230 sister school Andrew, and during the spring campaign it was the Thunderbolts experiencing the latest feeling of achievement as they roughed up Sandburg.
At that time, Eagles assistant coach Chuck Peters claimed Sandburg had displayed “zero energy” and “didn’t really fight” in a contest that ultimately favored Andrew by a slaughter-rule margin. Sandburg and the T’bolts reversed their respective roles last Wednesday, though, as the Eagles secured a 10-0 victory.
Julian Gutierrez (two hits, three RBI, two runs), Jim Roche (two hits, hit by pitch, one run) and Dan Santiago (one hit, one walk, two steals) were the ringleaders of Sandburg’s attack, while Sean Leland, Chris Stearns, Ben Gresla and Alec Martinez joined forces on the hill to stymie Andrew. Martinez also shone on defense, where he made a diving stop in the infield on a ball headed up the middle.
“The best thing we took from the game is defensively,” assistant coach George Fear said. “We looked very strong. We [also] battled through some [early] at-bats and were able to put the ball in play, and some good things happened.”
Fear said the Eagles’ summer roster consists of “a lot of seniors who didn’t get much playing time [in the spring] and a lot of juniors. We’re throwing out a bunch of lineups all summer and see how they do.”
Fear and the other Sandburg coaches certainly liked what they saw in the summer debut, but they don’t want satisfaction setting in too rapidly among the athletes. As a reminder, Fear said he points to the Eagles’ playoff loss to another district rival, Stagg.
“I hope they’re not content with losing in the regional semifinal,” Fear said. “Hopefully, they’re taking it seriously [right now]. Summer is instructional, for sure, but the mantra is every day is a tryout.”
Not much went wrong for the Knights in a 30-win spring season, but one misstep was taken against Palos Heights neighbor Shepard. Chicago Christian made amends for that earlier defeat by downing the Astros 9-1 last Tuesday.
The triumph was one of three netted by the Knights in their opening week of summer play. They also topped Stagg (7-1) and Romeoville (11-4), but dropped a 13-3 verdict to Oak Forest.
Even with the setback included, however, Christian assistant coach Alex Bolyanatz had no complaints about what he saw from the Knights, who are the only Class 2A member of the south suburban summer league.
“Some of the schools we play are 4A schools, so that’s good for us,” Bolyanatz said. “We’re not seeing everyone they have, but they aren’t seeing all of our guys, either.”
Varsity returnees Max Kerfin and Sean O’Meara have been Christian’s headliners thus far as they compiled respective batting averages of .667 and .538 through four games. Jack De Vries is hitting .500 and junior-to-be Drew Van Buren has posted a .545 on-base percentage.
Mike Santarelli, Pat McCarthy, Ron Clark and Trevor Wolterink are other players who’ve caught Bolyanatz’s eye at one time or another, the latter pair doing so on the mound. While there will be a veteran foundation off which to construct next spring’s squad, the Knights have to replace their entire 2013 infield.
“That’s a gaping hole right now,” Bolyanatz said. “We have some infielders, but we’re not sure where they’ll fit in, so we’re seeing what people’s comfort level is. We’re trying to get a lot of guys in and out [of the lineup].”
Bolyanatz admitted that younger players’ biggest adjustment is to the speed of the varsity game, but in Christian’s case, something else enters the equation. The Knights have had the greatest run of sustained success in school history during head coach Eric Brauer’s five-year tenure, which in 2013 included conference and regional championships in addition to the aforementioned 30 victories, and Bolyanatz said varsity newcomers are aware of what has recently transpired.
“I think I see anxiety on some of the younger guys’ faces,” he said. “They’re feeling some pressure, which means they understand the reality here — that something’s at stake. We try to get the kids at the level where, when they get to the ballpark, they expect to win rather than just hope they do.”
And while Bolyanatz understands that summertime play is a bit more relaxed in terms of the emphasis placed on contest outcomes, he said there remains a need for athletes to avoid taking any shortcuts.
“We do feel we’re trying to build an attitude [about] still playing the game the right way,” Bolyanatz said. “There are points to be made, and I’m not afraid to make them.”
The Astros’ loss to Christian was balanced out by an 11-4 thrashing of Tinley Park later on Tuesday.
“We threw strikes, played defense, and we came out hitting,” Shepard coach Frank DiFoggio said.
Five runs in the first inning certainly proved the latter point. Several players contributed to the Astros’ 10-hit attack, most notably Brett Smith, who homered, doubled and totaled three RBI. John Korbakes (two RBI) and Sam Hermanas both chipped in a pair of hits, Brendan Hermann stroked a two-run double, and Kevin Carmody and Ryan Eichwedel each delivered an RBI single.
“These were the same group of kids [who played against the Knights], but they were nice and relaxed,” DiFoggio said. “We’re going to have our moments where we do some great things.
“We have a very young group, only four seniors, but I like our group. We’re scrappy, we fight and we’ve got a little bit of talent, but it’s raw.”
Hermann, Korbakes and David Atut shared the mound chores and needed only 83 pitches to finish off the Titans. The contest ended on a 2-5-4-1 putout.
While things went smoothly for the Astros Tuesday night, the same wasn’t true during their afternoon outing, which DiFoggio said featured many of his younger charges sporting “that deer-in-the-headlights look.” Christian no doubt helped foster the sensation by tallying eight times in its initial plate appearance, a rally that was aided by three free passes and a hit batsman.
“The one thing in both of our losses was we had a little bit of wildness,” DiFoggio said.
Worse than that for Shepard was the premature departure of senior-to-be hurler Jake Hart, who exited after facing just four batters because his non-throwing shoulder popped out of place. DiFoggio thinks Hart may be done for the summer.
“I knew something didn’t look right,” DiFoggio said. “That’s a huge loss.”
Better news for the Astros was their ability to shake off the ill effects of that first-inning assault and compete with the Knights on even footing the remainder of the game. DiFoggio praised a number of performers, including Hermann (RBI single), Bobby Peterka, Ken Gorski (double), and relief pitchers Ben Meyer, Tyler Walters and Ricky Mundo.
“It was the first time I went into battle with those guys,” DiFoggio said, “and they fought. It was a 1-1 ballgame the rest of the way.”
Shepard fell a run short of TF South in eight innings on Friday at the Reavis Wooden Bat Tournament, but the Astros’ 10-9 defeat had some definite high points. One was Shepard’s ability to force extra frames, as it trailed 9-4 entering the bottom of the seventh.
In that inning, three sophomores-to-be reached base and were driven home on Kevin Knoerzer’s double. Smith lofted a sacrifice fly and a Rebels error allowed the tying marker to cross the plate.
“We’re playing with a bunch of babies,” DiFoggio said, “and we played a nice little ballgame. I really like what I see. We’re putting the ball in play and we’re not afraid — that’s the big thing.
“In high school baseball games, other teams don’t [usually] beat you. You most often beat yourself.”
Mundo and Smith (three strikeouts in one inning) gave the Astros more solid pitching, but there were also some struggles on the hill. That was evidenced by Shepard’s throwing of 192 pitches and issuance of 10 walks, six of which resulted in TF South runs.
Bringing home three of the Astros’ earlier runs were Peterka (two-RBI single) and Carmody (single). A double steal led to the fourth tally.
The Bulldogs were playing their best baseball of the spring at the end of the season, and momentum from that late surge carried over into early summer as they went 5-0 last week.
Richards outscored its foes by a combined 56-20 score and piled up double-digit runs in four of those games. Perhaps its most impressive exhibition came against St. Charles East on Friday.
The Fighting Saints were third in Class 4A during the spring, but they were no match for the Bulldogs here as they suffered a 13-5 setback at Richards’ weekend tournament. The ’Dogs tallied in every inning but the first and knocked out 16 hits.
Six players produced multiple-hit efforts, with all-area catcher Charlie Zeschke and Shawn Chiaramonte leading the onslaught with three apiece. Both players were credited with two RBI, and Zeschke also scored a run. Eric Mallo (three runs, one RBI), Chris Zeschke (two runs, one RBI), Noel Castro (two runs) and Kyle Garrett (one RBI) all supplied two hits.
“I like the fact we’re getting production one through nine [in the order] instead of just one through five,” Richards coach Brian Wujcik said. “We’re not in a situation where it’s eight outs and then Charlie, so it gives us some nice options.
“We’re not a very big team. We don’t have the same size we had in the spring, but we’re hitting line drives everywhere. I’m happy with all factors — we’re hitting the ball, we’re playing [good] defense and we’re throwing strikes.”
The Bulldogs broke things open versus St. Charles East by erupting for four runs in both the sixth and seventh stanzas. A Saints error and wild pitch boosted Richards, but Charlie Zeschke (two-run double), Mallo (single), Dan Estrella (sacrifice fly) and Brett Thomas (bases-loaded walk) also contributed to the rallies.
Chiaramonte (two-run double, sacrifice fly), Garrett (RBI single) and Chris Zeschke (sacrifice fly) spearheaded the Bulldogs’ earlier rounds of noisemaking.
Also on Friday, Richards continually responded to uprisings by St. Ignatius and eventually pocketed a 12-6 win. The ’Dogs expunged a 6-all tie by plating six runs in the fifth, a blitz fueled by Garrett’s two-run double and Nick Majia’s RBI two-bagger, plus Mallo’s suicide squeeze and later steal of home.
Also recording RBI for Richards in the contest were Charlie Zeschke (double), Estrella (double), Chiaramonte (single) and Castro (groundout). Chiaramonte, Estrella, Garrett and Mallo all finished with a couple of hits.
Thomas earned the pitching triumph with four innings of three-hit relief.
The Bulldogs wrapped up tourney play on Saturday by blasting TF South 11-4 behind a 15-hit attack. Estrella (three hits, three runs, two RBI), A.J. Sanchez (two hits, three RBI, one run) Castro (two hits, three RBI), Chiaramonte (two hits, two RBI, two runs), Charlie Zeschke (two hits, three runs) and Mallo (two hits, one run) all made their presences felt on Richards’ behalf.
Once again, the Bulldogs spread out their scoring. Richards tallied at least two runs in four of its plate appearances.
“A lot of times in the spring, we were a one-inning team,” Wujcik said.
Chris Zeschke pitched four innings and struck out five to gain the win.
Richards got its summer schedule underway by sweeping a Thursday doubleheader from Evergreen Park, 8-4 and 12-1. Nate Natividad, a part-time player in the spring, ignited the Bulldogs’ offense by going 5-for-5 with seven RBI over the two games.
“He’s going to be valuable to us next year because he can play three infield positions,” Wujcik said of Natividad.
All three of Natividad’s Game 1 hits went for two bases, and Sanchez added two doubles of his own to the cause while knocking in a pair of runs and tallying once. Majia chipped in two hits, an RBI and one run for Richards, which scored six of its markers in the second inning after two batters had been retired.
“With these guys, there’s a little bit of a sense of business to take care of,” Wujcik said. “They’re applying what they’ve learned and there’s not as much starting over as in some other summers. They’re ready to play and they’re playing the game very smart.”
Backed by 10-hit support, Andrew Schramm was able to bag a pitching win as he scattered five hits and fanned three over 4 2/3 innings.
Charlie Zeschke (two hits, two runs, one RBI) joined Natividad at the two-hit plateau in the second contest, and the Bulldogs left the Mustangs in the dust by exploding for 10 runs in the third frame. Natividad had both of his hits — one of them went for a double — and all four of his RBI during the rally, while six other Richards players chased in one teammate.
Chris Lovetere (single) and Adrian Garcia (groundout) accounted for the Bulldogs’ first two RBI in the second inning. Eric Ruge was the victorious pitcher.
While the Mustangs couldn’t knock off their South Suburban Conference Red neighbor last week, they did find success against De La Salle, which was dispatched 5-3 behind two-hit performances from Mark Martin and Corey Miller.
Tim Walsh added an RBI, and Frank Meisl and Aaron Green Van Zee teamed up on the mound to hold the Meteors’ sticks in check. While the week was only a partial success for Evergreen Park, assistant coach Jason Dunneback noticed a distinct difference in players’ approaches compared to summers past.
“They’re all jacked up right now,” Dunneback said. “I’ve been here nine years, and at the end of the spring, it’s [typically] like, ‘OK, we’ll move on to football,’ but a lot of kids are now doing both. Winning brings out the best in them.”
Winning is something the Mustangs did a fair amount of over the last two-thirds of the spring campaign. Although Evergreen’s ledger stood only one game over .500 at the end, its won three times in the postseason and reached a sectional final for the first time in school history. The Mustangs’ Class 3A regional crown was the first one for the baseball program in 55 years.
“One of the biggest things I see from the spring is that they’re in the weight room [already] and they’re doing things on their own,” Dunneback said of Evergreen athletes.
Martin, Brendan Walsh and Miller all performed well against Richards, and Dunneback felt pitcher David Ziebarth was decent in his first prolonged outing. That, Dunneback says, is something all players must adjust to, as they become a more integral part of the program.
“We have a lot of new kids coming in and they need to see how it feels,” he said. “This is new. You haven’t been on the mound for six innings, but when you’re a junior who’s going to be a senior, you have to expect to pitch more than two innings.
“I want to see progress made [this summer].”
The Chargers did not triumph in three tries last week, but only a 7-1 loss to Chicago Christian ranked as a disappointment.
That Monday clash tilted the Knights’ way when they scored five times in the fifth inning. In response, Stagg managed only four hits and plated its lone run on Tim Gambil’s sacrifice fly.
“I think it’s going to be a similar team to what we’ve had [of late],” Chargers coach Matt O’Neill said. “We’re not going to score a lot of runs, so we’re going to have to catch the ball and pitch [well].”
Four juniors-to-be toed the rubber for Stagg, with Connor Bartle cited as the most impressive member of the quartet. While the Chargers will benefit from the return of all-area honorable mention Max Strus and junior-to-be Jeff Goral on the hill, more than a 1-2 punch will be required to keep Stagg afloat after it moves into the SouthWest Suburban Conference Blue for the 2013-14 school year.
“We’ve got Strus and Goral back, then a bunch of unknowns after them,” O’Neill said. “We definitely have to have a couple of guys step up, kind of like Goral, and to some extent Strus, did.”
Two pitchers did exactly that on Thursday, as the Chargers limited Lemont to one run. However, the combined four-hitter tossed by Brendon Kivlehan and Kenon Kizlaitis went for naught as Stagg was unable to reach the scoreboard itself in a 1-0 final.
Kris Swanson and Jake Wimmer each stroked two hits for the Chargers, who totaled seven hits in all.
C.J. Casey made an early bid for consideration as a go-to hurler by holding Lincoln-Way East to one hit over three innings last Wednesday. He whiffed three and walked only one, and what made Casey’s performance notable was that the Griffins wound up plating eight runs on the day and beating Stagg by one.
“He’s kind of a wild card for us,” O’Neill said of Casey. “He could be in the mix as a No. 3 guy for us, and he’s going to get every opportunity [to do it].”
As for the Chargers’ offense, it, too, exhibited positive signs. Stagg knocked out a baker’s dozen worth of hits and racked up multiple-run innings in both the first (two runs) and third (fourth).
Brett Stratinsky was the Chargers’ main man with two doubles and three RBI, but Jack Duffner (one hit, two RBI) and Drew Bolero (RBI groundout) further aided the cause. Stagg, which also picked up a sixth-inning run via a balk, was ahead 7-3, but Lincoln-Way East pulled even in the bottom of the sixth and then pushed across the deciding run one stanza later on a sacrifice fly.
Although O’Neill obviously would have preferred a better outcome for his club, he thought the contest was still beneficial.
“It’s good to be in those kinds of games and good to see where guys are at mentally [and if] they know what to do,” O’Neill said. “That’s kind of what summer is all about for me -- how they’re going to react to situations.”
A 1-3 start to the summer for the Crusaders was a bit deceiving because they could have just as easily gone unbeaten as all three of their defeats were one-run verdicts.
De La Salle (3-2), St. Laurence (4-3) and St. Rita (4-3) each beat Brother Rice, while Marist was saddled with a 5-3 setback. Crusaders coach John McCarthy was satisfied with squad’s overall play and unfazed by the relative lack of batting punch, insisting that Rice’s “hitting will improve.”
“The biggest thing is having a good approach and knowing what you’re doing,” he said. “We should be tough to beat [in the future] because whenever you have that, you don’t beat yourself. [The low scores] were also a tribute to our arms and defense.”
While the Crusaders’ 2014 spring team will feature key veterans such as all-area selections Kevin Biondic and Brian Musielak, Kevin Sullivan and Ian McGuinness, and is well fortified in most areas, McCarthy is still viewing summer ball as a trial period. And in his opinion, nail-biters like the ones in which Rice engaged last week should speed up player development.
“I loved it because you can see how guys respond in pressure situations, especially the young guys,” McCarthy said. “We have a lot of solid guys, but we’ll see who wants to earn a spot in the spring and what they will do to get it. Everybody’s still battling for a job.
“We have a lot of returners and we’re feeling good, but all that really doesn’t mean much unless you go out and play with intensity. The talent in the area’s too good to not do that. Our [seniors-to-be] have to make those steps leadership-wise and know how to get the most out of those younger guys and themselves.
“We have to take the next step as a program — if we don’t, we’re going to get passed by. That’s just the way it is.”