Summer baseball roundup

  • Written by Ken Karrson

Eagles heating up as season progresses.

  Unlike in 2012, there have been no triple-digit temperatures with which to deal so far this summer.
  The milder climate has done nothing to cool off Sandburg, however. In fact, the Eagles have been pretty hot right from the onset of the summer-league schedule.
  Things haven’t gone off completely without a hitch — last week, for example, one disastrous inning cost Sandburg dearly against Brother Rice. But the 5-3 loss the Eagles eventually suffered on Tuesday was one of only two doled out to them in their first seven contests.
  Sandburg’s other outing last week went far better, as the Eagles crushed Oak Forest 25-0.
  “Hopefully, we make a nice run in the summer, and we can use that to make a nice run in the spring [of 2014],” Eagles assistant coach George Fear said. “I feel pretty comfortable with our pitching staff.”
  As well he should. While Sandburg’s bats, like those of several other clubs, have literally been a hit-or-miss proposition from one game to the next, the Eagles’ arms have been steady.
  “In seven games, we’ve given up three earned runs — we’ll take that,” Fear said. “On paper, the staff looks good, but that doesn’t mean anything until the spring comes.”
  Maybe not, but there’s no denying that several guys delivered impressive performances in June. Senior-to-be Ben Gresla did not surrender an earned run in his first eight stanzas of work, while senior-to-be Matthias Dietz struck out five, walked one and allowed only two hits through his first seven frames on the hill.
  Dietz’s latest effort was a four-inning stint versus Rice, during which time the Crusaders managed just one hit. With Dan Santiago (two hits, two runs), Julian Gutierrez (two hits) and Peter Paxinos (one hit, one RBI) giving the offense a little juice, Sandburg carried a 2-0 lead into the fifth.
  “The first four innings kind of had a feel of, ‘Hey, this could be a big playoff game potentially [because] these are two pretty good teams,’” Fear said. “Then we decided to give the game away. We had a bit of a meltdown in the fifth.”
  That meltdown included four fielding errors, which forced reliever Gresla to fan four batters and still not emerge unscathed. Three more miscues in the sixth pretty much sealed the Eagles’ fate.
  Interestingly, the sudden bout of sloppiness did not result from a wholesale makeover in personnel, a practice that is common for most teams during the summertime since a main objective is to grant playing time to as many athletes as possible in each contest.
  “We just didn’t play well in those two innings,” Fear said. “It was a pretty positive effort for the most part, but [the fifth] was just a goofy, very strange inning. We just didn’t execute well.”
  There were no such slip-ups against Oak Forest, which was victimized by a 16-run first inning in which Sandburg stroked a baker’s dozen worth of hits.
  “It was pretty incredible, right down the line,” Fear said, “and it was very good to see.”
  Chris Stearns’ bases-clearing triple and two-run double were both part of the Eagles’ opening blitz, and Gutierrez (two-run homer) and Alec Martinez (two hits, three RBI) contributed to the cause later on. Although the run total was unexpected, Sandburg’s ability to quickly rebound from the tough loss to Rice didn’t surprise Fear.
  “I think the guys understand it’s a day-to-day thing [performance-wise],” he said.
  Part of the reason for that, in Fear’s opinion, is the switch away from aluminum bats, which began in 2012.
  “The bats have had a huge impact,” he said. “Good hitters still find a way [to be effective] because they’re mechanically sound, but it’s made average hitters below average. It seems everyone’s in the same boat as far as run production.
  “You really have to put pressure on defenses. Outfielders are daring you to hit the ball over their heads, so you’ve got to string together hits.”
  Among the Eagles’ other conquests this summer have been Richards (2-1), Eisenhower (7-1) and Bremen (17-0).
  The Knights were in fine form last week, as they netted victories over Eisenhower (10-0), Illiana Christian (3-0) and Rich Central (14-3). The trio of triumphs improved Chicago Christian’s ledger to 7-3.
  Like Sandburg, the Knights have been riding strong pitching displays to success. Josh Novak threw 6 1/3 innings of shutout ball at the Vikings on Tuesday, which came on the heels of five scoreless frames tossed by sophomore-to-be Trevor Wolderink one day earlier versus the Cardinals.
  “We played 19 innings this [past] week and gave up runs in one of those innings,” Christian assistant coach Alex Bolyanatz said. “Our team ERA is under two, and none of this is surprising [after a 30-win spring season].
  “I think [head coach Eric Brauer] has done a good job of establishing something. The experienced players know what is expected, and I think these guys understand each game has an identity of its own.”
  Certainly, Novak, who earned all-area recognition in the spring, is no stranger to what’s required. He demonstrated that by handcuffing Illiana in his first extended action of the summer.
  “He told me, ‘I’m ready to go as long as I can,’ and I was happy to let him do that,” Bolyanatz said.
  The Knights gave Novak all the batting support he required by plating four runs over the first two stanzas. Stroking key hits were Mike Santarelli (RBI double), Jack De Vries (RBI double) and Ron Clark (RBI).
  Christian prospered despite garnering just five hits, which continued a springtime trend. Back then, the Knights seemed to make a habit of maximizing their scoring opportunities, no matter how few were presented.
  “The kid who pitched for [Illiana] did a good job,” Bolyanatz said. “He was throwing strikes for the most part. I don’t remember us getting many free passes.”
  Clark (double, triple, three RBI), Novak (two hits) and De Vries (two hits) were the offensive headliners for Chicago Christian opposite Eisenhower. De Vries was also a big gun in the Knights’ rout of Rich Central, going 4-for-4 to finish the week 7-for-10 and with a team-best .452 average through 10 contests.
  “He has a great mentality,” Bolyanatz said of De Vries. “He’ll hit a couple of at-‘em balls, but he shrugs it off. He knows that’s the randomness of baseball.
  “And he’s getting better at what he does best — he’s a gap-to-gap hitter and he gets the barrel [of the bat] on it. He’ll have a bad swing or two, but he won’t have a bad at-bat, and he’s not afraid of having two strikes on him.”
  Christian Bolhuis and Sean O’Meara teamed up on the hill to keep Rich Central’s attack under wraps on Thursday. The Olympians were one of the better south-suburban squads during the spring campaign, so Bolyanatz was glad to see Chicago Christian prevail by such a wide margin.
  “I think these guys look forward to playing the good programs,” he said of his athletes. “I think you benefit from playing good teams. Certainly, they’re anxious about it, but that’s the fun of it. That’s how you get juice.”
  De Vries is one of a half-dozen Knights currently sporting an average above. 320. Also in that group are O’Meara (.429), Max Kerfin (.379), Santarelli (.350), Pat McCarthy (.333 with a team-high .522 on-base percentage) and Clark (.321). In addition, Bolyanatz dubbed youngster Drew Van Buren (.286) as a “pretty pleasant surprise.”
  Generating potency on offense continued to be something of a problem for the Spartans last week, but not enough of one to prevent them from gaining a split in two outings.
  While coach Bill Gerny wasn’t enamored of Oak Lawn’s 13-2 defeat at St. Laurence’s hands on Wednesday, there was plenty to like about the Spartans’ showing against Romeoville on Monday. There, the threesome of Mitch Swatek, Marcus Montes and Matt Dunne joined forces on the mound to stymie that other group of Spartans and help Oak Lawn (4-6) bag a 2-1 win.
  “Those are three pitchers we’re going to rely on next year and Romeoville really couldn’t do anything with them,” Gerny said. “Our pitching looks like it’s going to be strong, which is good because I think we’re going to have an offense similar to last year’s.”
  That means the Spartans will have to scrape together runs, which they did on this occasion. Oak Lawn knocked out nine hits against Romeoville, but only Dunne’s single resulted in an RBI. The locals’ other marker came on Brandon Quillin’s groundout.
  Kevin Zurek supplied the Spartans’ lone extra-base hit with his seventh-inning triple, but that safety went for naught. Also drawing praise from Gerny was Bobby Beard, who donned the catching gear for the first time and performed well.
  “It seems like he’s got a good sense of awareness back there,” Gerny said. “Guys weren’t stealing on him.
  “We’re getting to the point where we have more athletes [than baseball-only individuals] and we’re trying guys in different spots. We want guys to become comfortable in several positions.”
  No one was very comfortable against St. Laurence, which erupted for seven runs in the third frame and shoved Oak Lawn into an inescapable hole. The Spartans’ lone runs were picked up in the fifth, with T.J. Olsen (groundout) and Tyler Loehr (bases-loaded walk) getting credit for the RBI. Oak Lawn received four bases-on-balls in that plate appearance.
  “It’s good we didn’t get shut out, but we shouldn’t pat ourselves on the back too much,” Gerny said. “Having a tough summer schedule means we’re getting to see what guys can do, but that game was a disaster right from the get-go. They came out swinging the bats — [senior-to-be Mike] Kornacker hit a couple balls that were hit as hard as any I’ve seen this summer.
  “I don’t see the guys sitting back and resting on their laurels, but we’ve got to get one through 20 working hard rather than just six or seven guys. We can’t take it easy because every single St. Laurence player is playing at full speed.”
  Vikings coach Pete Lotus was definitely pleased to see that, not to mention plenty of offense. That had been a missing ingredient recently and likely cost St. Laurence a couple of wins.
  “We played a little better last week,” said Lotus, whose club also notched victories over Richards (10-3) and Lockport (4-1). “Having a couple [veteran] guys back certainly helped, but some of the juniors are coming along. That was certainly a positive.
  “One of the things we lacked a little bit was confidence — I think [the younger players] have been a little intimidated by the older guys. We talked about that a lot, and I said, ‘If you don’t think you belong with these guys, you probably won’t do very good.’
  “I want to see them succeed because they’re good players. It’s a meaningful time for them and for us as a team.”
  Kornacker (double, RBI single) was one of several influential persons operating on St. Laurence’s behalf. Also providing run-scoring hits were Roger Wilson (two hits, including a double, two RBI), Brad Wood, Sean Burnett, John Riordan, Mike Miller and Kevin Aderman.
  “We had some good swings and good at-bats,” said Lotus, whose team totaled 11 hits. “That’s all we ask of our guys.”
  Other RBI men were Jake Kolniak (bases-loaded walk), Frank Greco (walk), Anthony Chimera (sacrifice fly) and Mike Sterna (groundout). Greco, Mike Munoz and Tyler Snee shared the mound chores.
  It was another pitching-by-committee outing for St. Laurence (5-3) last Thursday, and the foursome of Riordan, Kornacker, Sean Koziol and Zach Erdman combined to slam the door on Lockport, the SouthWest Suburban Conference Blue kingpin during the spring season.
  Lotus was impressed with his hurlers’ ability to keep the lid on the Porters’ attack.
  “We’ve tried to really limit each guy to two innings, or even one, but it’s tough because sometimes it takes pitchers an inning or two to find a rhythm,” he said.
  The Vikings’ own offense wasn’t very robust, either, but Nate Tholl (a pair of two-run singles), Riordan (RBI triple) and Greco (RBI double) made sure that didn’t turn into a problem. Rich Lamb also belted a double for St. Laurence and then crossed the plate on Tholl’s second hit.
  Five runs in the second frame gave the Vikings the boost they needed to pull away from Richards last Tuesday. St. Laurence tallied in five of its plate appearances.
  Wood (two-run double), Riordan (single), Greco (single) and Burnett (sacrifice fly) did the job for the Vikes in their second at-bat. Greco, who later homered and poked another single, concluded the day with four RBI.
  “The lower part of the order did well,” Lotus said. “They had really good at-bats.”
  Tholl and Lamb both smacked RBI singles in support of the pitching quartet of Wood, Wilson, Steve Schultz and Alex Hitney. The Bulldogs were held to five hits and guilty of three errors, which unintentionally augmented St. Laurence’s nine-hit effort.
  “We kind of rolled over after that [second inning], which I wasn’t happy about,” Richards coach Brian Wujcik said.
  One thing that did satisfy the veteran leader was the continued development of senior-to-be Nate Natividad. A reserve during the spring campaign, Natividad had two hits and an RBI versus the Vikings, a performance that nicely book-ended an identical one by A.J. Sanchez.
  “He’s just swinging the bat real well,” Wujcik said of Natividad. “He’s playing every day now and he’s got himself into a rhythm. He’s comfortable now.
  “What makes him very valuable is that we’ve played him at second base, third base, shortstop, right field and center field. He’s a good utility guy for us.”
  The Bulldogs also fell short of Brother Rice in a wild affair last Monday. The Crusaders roared back from a sizable deficit by exploding for eight seventh-inning runs to pin a 15-12 setback on Richards (9-4).
  “We out-hit them, we out-fielded them, but we had one blow-up inning,” Wujcik said. “We’re swinging the bats and scoring runs.”
  That was certainly the case here, as the Bulldogs produced two four-run innings and a three-run stanza. Charlie Zeschke (double, triple) and Shane Mills both went 3-for-5 with two runs and an RBI to lead the way, but Natividad (two hits, double, RBI, run), Nick Mejia (two hits, RBI, run), Dan Estrella (double) and Eric Mallo (double) also contributed to a 16-hit assault.
  There was no need to look for moral victories on Friday, not when real ones were available.
  Richards hosted Lock Creek High School from Kansas and got the better of its visitors twice, 4-0 and 17-7. The second of those matchups featured the Bulldogs erasing a 7-3 lead Lock Creek had constructed after three innings.
  Brett Thomas assumed a hero’s role in the latter game, first by tossing four frames of one-hit relief and then by blasting a three-run homer in the fifth stanza. That was part of an eight-run uprising by Richards that gave it a 14-7 advantage.
  Natividad (three hits, two RBI, one run), Noel Castro (three hits, four RBI, one run), Chris Zeschke (two hits, two RBI, two runs), Mills (two hits, two runs, one RBI), Mejia (two hits, three runs) and Chris Lovetere (two hits, one RBI, one run) all chipped in with solid efforts as well.
  “It was a pretty balanced attack,” Wujcik said. “Nothing spectacular, just solid baseball. We’re swinging the bats well, running the bases exceptionally well and throwing strikes for the most part.”
  Wujcik attributed some of his team’s success to the fact it closed out the spring schedule playing its best baseball of that season.
  “I think that has something to do with it,” he said. “We had that momentum carry over and I think the seniors-to-be are taking ownership.
  “We’ve got some quality wins in there [this summer]. We told our guys not to take anyone lightly, and our only disappointment was the Chicago Christian game [in the second week]. I’m pretty happy with how we’ve played.”
  Game 1 against Lock Creek was much tighter, in part because the Bulldogs left the bases loaded three times in the first four innings. However, four runs in the fifth broke a scoreless tie and secured a win for Richards.
  “I like playing somebody new, especially in the summer,” Wujcik said. “They’re a smaller school outside of Topeka, and they’re very comparable to the schools in our conference [with] the same-sized kids. We were evenly matched. Their kids played well and were respectable.”
  The same could be said for the Bulldogs, who were paced by Sanchez’s superb pitching performance. The senior-to-be went the distance on a yield of just one hit and two walks while whiffing nine.
  “I can’t tell you the last time we had a guy throw a complete game with nine strikeouts,” Wujcik said.
  Sanchez also did his part at the plate as he stroked a pair of hits. Shawn Chiaramonte did the same while driving in a run as well, and both Charlie Zeschke (two RBI) and Mallo (RBI) slammed triples.
  While one victory in nine games isn’t quite what Chargers coach Matt O’Neill was expecting through three weeks of the summer slate, Stagg’s lone triumph during that period was certainly noteworthy.
  It came against Lincoln-Way North, which ruled over the SouthWest Suburban Conference Red in the spring. C.J. Casey (eight strikeouts), Ryan Donnelly and Peter Angelos teamed up to slow the Phoenix, Donnelly doing so in part by escaping a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the fifth by registering a groundout and strikeout.
  Casey, meanwhile, allowed only one hit through 3 1/3 innings. O’Neill wasn’t too keen about the six walks his hurler issued, but the pros far outweighed any cons.
  “The thing about C.J. is he didn’t pitch a lot at the lower levels,” O’Neill said. “[But] he has a really good arm and he’s got really good stuff — when he’s on, he’s got two above-average pitches.
  “This [game] was all about pitching and defense. We didn’t make any errors.”
  The Chargers also didn’t have any hits until the fifth. They broke into the scoring column in the sixth, as Brett Stratinsky (double) and Jack Duffner (infield single) recorded the RBI. Drew Bolero also hit safely in the frame.
  While Stagg’s designated blue team was pinning a defeat on Lincoln-Way North last Tuesday, its orange squad — comprised primarily of younger and more inexperienced athletes — was in the midst of suffering a tough loss to Bremen. What made the outcome somewhat heartbreaking for the Chargers’ yearlings was that they surrendered only one run from the second inning on.
  The trouble was, the Braves struck for a six-spot in the first, which laid the groundwork for an eventual 7-3 win. Four straight singles opened the stanza, then Stagg aided Bremen’s cause by committing three errors.
  “That’s one of the things we look for in summer: to see how the young guys handle certain situations,” O’Neill said.
  He liked the fact the contest never got away from the Chargers and that pitcher Robert Stark supplied 3 1/3 innings of one-hit relief. Stark fanned two and did not walk anyone.
  Gary Kopec’s two-run homer was one of five hits generated by Stagg’s offense. It also belted two doubles, but the team’s other tally was realized via a bad pickoff throw.
  Shepard made sure the Chargers didn’t enjoy their first winning week by rallying in the seventh inning for a 3-2 victory last Thursday.
  A catcher’s interference call against Stagg gave the Astros a second baserunner after Brendan Hermann had poked a one-out single. A wild pitch and errant throw down to third then sent Hermann around to the plate with the deciding marker.
  “We’ll take it,” Shepard coach Frank DiFoggio said. “I saw that we had some fight in us, and our pitching and defense was just good enough to keep us in the game, [but] it was a really strange last inning.”
  The Astros (5-7) had also scored in the third and sixth innings on Ben Meyer’s single and Kevin Knoerzer’s double, respectively. The latter’s hit was preceded by Tyler Walters’ two-bagger.
  Stagg’s runs resulted from a Shepard miscue in the second frame and Joe Zaremba’s RBI double in the fifth. It left the sacks filled in the first of those innings.
  The Chargers’ loss couldn’t obscure another decent pitching display, this time by the duo of Angelos and Brendan Kivlehan, who threw five innings between them and gave up just one hit while striking out nine.
  “I think we’re going to be OK on the mound [in 2014],” O’Neill said. “Angelos didn’t pitch a lot as a junior, but I think he’s going to be a guy who has to log a lot of innings for us.”
  The Astros’ other encounter last week ended in a 14-4 loss to De La Salle on Tuesday.
  Bobby Peterka socked a two-run homer for Shepard and Kevin Carmody knocked in a couple of teammates with his single, but that first-inning noisemaking couldn’t be adequately followed up. And when the Meteors responded with five runs in their initial at-bat, they went ahead to stay.
  “They were definitely putting the ball in play and hitting it hard,” DiFoggio said of De La Salle, which accrued nine hits — including five doubles — over the first three frames. “I was a little disappointed because we came out like gangbusters and didn’t do anything after that, but they hit their way to victory.”
  While the setback itself didn’t go down easily, even tougher for DiFoggio to swallow was an overall exhibition he termed “lackadaisical.”
  “It was the first hot, humid day, and we didn’t have the energy,” he said. “That’s the only time I’ve seen that this summer. They’ve done such a great job with [being energetic] all summer.”
  The RedHawks earned a two-game split last week, with Tuesday’s 3-2 triumph over Tinley Park being declared a final after four innings because of weather.
  Robert Hovey got the win against the Titans, but Marist coach Tom Fabrizio has also been satisfied with what he’s seen from some other pitchers this summer, including juniors-to-be Rich Kairis and Marty Meyer.
  “We’ve really pitched it [well], which is something I’m excited about because that’s something we’re going to need to compete,” Fabrizio said. “Offensively, we haven’t exactly been hitting the ball real well, but it’s not bad. We want to cut down on strikeouts.”
  Fabrizio admitted, though, that the RedHawks “are not exactly results-oriented offensively right now” and are concentrating on making improvement in particular areas, such as moving runners along and stealing bases.
  “I feel like the kids have worked on it and I think it’ll come,” Fabrizio said. “We’ve got some tough kids and I think we have the potential to be the best group [I’ve had]. They’re not the most [naturally] talented, but they hate losing and they’ll do anything they have to do to win. I’ll take that all day over talent, and the style of ball we try to play, they fit that perfectly.
  “They don’t go out there thinking, ‘Oh, we’re playing Mt. Carmel.’ They’re not intimidated by anyone.”
  Administering Marist’s loss was St. Rita by a 5-4 score. The RedHawks (5-3) were up 4-3 in the seventh inning, but couldn’t maintain the edge.
  While Fabrizio said, “Deep down, we want to win every game, even in the spring,” he realizes summer is a time for teaching — and not just in the more obvious ways.
  “I’m trying to get the kids to understand about being a well-rounded athlete and being a good teammate,” he said.