Summer baseball roundup

  • Written by Ken Karrson

Lighter work week for area clubs

  Independence Day meant freedom from baseball for most area teams.
  Even the busiest squads took a break from Thursday through this past weekend, but a few lightened their summer-league loads before that. Chicago Christian, in fact, did not schedule any contests the entire week.
  Oak Lawn, Sandburg and Shepard all took the field just one time, the latter pair doing so against each other last Monday. The Eagles won in a romp, as did the Spartans over Stagg on Wednesday.
  One club that tackled a full slate was Brother Rice, and the Crusaders made the most of their opportunities as they went 4-1 on the week. Their only loss came by a 2-0 score against Bremen, which was somewhat surprising seeing as how Rice included among its conquests Chicago Catholic League heavyweights St. Rita (8-2) and De La Salle (6-2).
  The Crusaders also bruised Stagg, as they knocked off the Chargers in both ends of a Tuesday twinbill, 16-1 and 10-0.
  “We were really, really happy with the way we played,” Rice coach John McCarthy said. “We want to keep it going and get better every day.
  “I want to see us really have that killer mentality, a little more fight. And if we run the bases better, we’ll be a tough team.”
  Eleven foes likely think that way about the Crusaders now, seeing as how they’ve come up short versus Rice this summer. St. Rita did so because of some clutch hitting by Rice’s Mike Schalasky (three-run double) and Mike Massey, plus solid pitching from Alex Alarcon and Kevin Biondic.
  Massey, a transfer from St. Rita, also slugged a two-run homer in one of the wins over Stagg.
  “He’s been absolutely outstanding,” McCarthy said. “He was at almost .600 for the week. He’s been tearing up the baseball.”
  Before romping past the Chargers, the Crusaders (11-5) got stonewalled by Bremen and wasted a decent mound effort by Jack Nelligan. While McCarthy credited Braves hurlers’ ability to mix up pitches as a key reason for his own team’s stagnant offense, he felt something else was a negative factor: overconfidence.
  “You can’t have that,” he said. “I think we thought we were [automatically] going to win and our focus at the plate wasn’t very good. We didn’t move runners very well.”
  Ian McGinnis, Barry Biondic, Joey Preusser and Jordan Taylor joined forces on the hill to silence Stagg twice. Erich Lieser aided Rice’s attack with a bases-clearing triple in one of the contests.
  “They had a few costly mistakes that allowed us to extend innings,” McCarthy said of the Chargers. “The biggest thing is you’ve got to pick up the baseball — if you do that, you give yourself a shot to win.
  “That’s what this group has done [for us]. I’ve been impressed with how they’ve stayed in ballgames [that way]. We’ve just got to find a way to get that timely hit.”
  That obviously wasn’t a problem for Rice on Tuesday, but its opponent hasn’t been quite so lucky. Stagg, which also struggled to score in the spring, collected a dozen hits against the Crusaders, but only Drew Bolero’s single in Game 1 generated a run for the Chargers.
  “Not many good things came out of that day,” Stagg coach Matt O’Neill said. “We played a really good Rice team and we never really were in the game[s].
  “I think they’re going to be pretty good in the spring. They’re pretty scary with the bats. They just pounded the ball and we didn’t [always] pick it up.”
  As for his own squad, O’Neill didn’t read too much into either of the outcomes versus Rice or the 13-2 defeat against Oak Lawn, even though none of those results reflected the competitiveness the Chargers have demonstrated most of the summer.
  “Our concerns didn’t really change because of this [past] week,” O’Neill said. “We really haven’t hit all summer, so that wasn’t a surprise, but I don’t think we’re any different than many other teams.”
  Joe Van Nieuwenhuyse accounted for two of Stagg’s five hits in Game 2. Rice totaled twice as many and augmented those safeties by placing four other runners aboard via Chargers errors.
  Lieser’s two-run single helped the Crusaders upend De La Salle on Wednesday. Schalasky and Jake Barry split the pitching duties.
  Also cited by McCarthy for contributions during the week were Andrew Dyke, Kevin Sullivan and Kyle Hilliard.
  Chris Yaros’ single kept the Chargers from being shut out last Wednesday, but Stagg (2-11) could not overcome Oak Lawn’s six-run eruption in the first inning and wound up getting tagged with a resounding setback. The Spartans struck for six more markers in the third.
  Bobby Beard (three-run double in the first) and Jake Slusinski (two-run double in the third) delivered the big blows for Oak Lawn. Spartans coach Bill Gerny praised the development of both players, who are expected to fill pivotal roles in 2014.
  “Despite playing several different positions, he has gotten really comfortable at the plate and has shown that he can hit varsity-level pitching,” Gerny said of Beard. “He has really stepped up this summer.
  “[Slusinski] was a player last year that was used for his defense and his speed, but, like Beard, he has become really comfortable at the plate. He is showing much more patience and waiting on pitches that he can drive.”
  Sophomore-to-be Justin Swatek chipped in with two hits and a walk and tallied three times, and Gerny described him as someone who “hits the ball hard and doesn’t play intimidated on the varsity level.”
  Other RBI men for Oak Lawn (5-6) were Mitch Swatek (sacrifice fly), Joe Dodaro (single), Matt Witkowski (sacrifice fly), Brandon Quillin (single), Matt Dunne (single), Ivan Georgelos (single) and Kevin Zurek (groundout).
  “We are getting contributions from every spot in the lineup,” Gerny said. “If we can maintain that consistency, I think our offense will be much stronger next year. I’m still waiting for all of the underclassmen to assert themselves and play with confidence, and I think that this game was a step in the right direction.”
  Witkowski earned the pitching victory by scattering three hits over the first three innings while walking no one and fanning five. Ray Walker threw a five-pitch fourth frame, while Chris Donato worked the fifth and final stanza.
  According to Gerny, Witkowski, Walker and Donato are all battling to become the Spartans’ No. 3 starter behind Dunne and Mitch Swatek next spring.
  Finding a No. 3 man to support primary mound occupants Max Strus and Jeff Goral has been on O’Neill’s summer to-do list as well, and making another bid for that spot was C.J. Casey, who pitched the Chargers to an 8-1 triumph over Reavis last Monday.
  Casey, who had held Lincoln-Way North to one hit over 3 1/3 innings and whiffed eight in a Stagg win the week before, was sharp again versus the Rams. Reavis managed two hits in six frames and struck out seven times.
  Casey did issue four walks, but that number was less than in his previous appearance.
  “He is the epitome of ‘effectively wild,’” O’Neill said. “He shows glimpses of being somebody who can help us in the spring. A lot of guys are battling for that No. 3 spot, and we’re trying to extend him a little bit because we really want to see what he can do.”
  All of the candidates for pitching assignments in 2014 have gotten longer looks because of the top two hurlers’ unavailability. Strus has been focusing on basketball, while Goral has missed the entire summer to date because of a bad elbow.
  Batting-wise, the Chargers were at their best against the Rams, who were reached for 11 hits. Bolero (two-run double), Brett Stratinsky (RBI double) and Nick Gerzon (two hits, three RBI) were the ringleaders, but Stagg also received input from Trace Moustakas (RBI single) and Jimmy Farnan (sacrifice fly).
  The Chargers scored twice in the first inning and then tacked on three runs in both the third and fifth stanzas.
  The trio of Matthias Dietz, Jeremy Kelso and Ben Kociper teamed up to no-hit Shepard last Monday and propel the Eagles toward an 11-0 win.
  Dietz pocketed the victory after fanning seven over four innings. He threw first-pitch strikes to 11 batters. For the summer, Dietz has surrendered just two hits and two walks over 11 innings.
  “Opponents’ batting average against him is real low,” Sandburg assistant coach George Fear said. “Everybody looked sharp [against the Astros]. I didn’t even realize it [was a no-hitter] until the sixth inning.”
  Shepard coach Frank DiFoggio definitely noticed it earlier.
  “We only hit one ball out of the infield,” he said. “I can see that’s where Sandburg is going to hang their hats.”
  Despite the lack of punch, the Astros (5-7) didn’t get rolled until the seventh inning. That’s when the Eagles (6-2) staged a six-run uprising, using two infield singles and a bloop hit as part of the rally.
  “When it’s going well, that’s what happens,” Fear said. “For Shepard, when it rains, it pours.”
  In DiFoggio’s opinion, the main reason it began pouring on his club was because of his decision to go young with the lineup later on.
  “We had all freshmen in the infield,” he said. “It was one of those learning-type innings. It was a pretty good 5-0 game for most of the game.”
  The Astros’ ability to hang relatively close for quite a while didn’t shock Fear.
  “Shepard has had some pretty tough games against us [in the past], for sure in the spring,” he said. “They’re well-coached over there and they do things the right way.”
  At the plate, Dan Santiago (two hits), Julian Gutierrez (two hits) and Chris Stearns (two RBI) were Sandburg’s headliners.
  “Those are three veterans we need to produce,” Fear said. “We kind of need them to be offensive catalysts.
  “[Success is] kind of a crapshoot, but our pitching’s been good and we’re definitely there. We’ve got enough to win [regularly].”
  Mt. Carmel may have won the Class 4A championship in early June, but the Caravan’s accomplishment then hasn’t fazed the Bulldogs this summer. Richards’ 2-1 triumph last Tuesday was its third over Mt. Carmel in four weeks.
  “We just want our guys to believe they can compete with anybody,” Bulldogs coach Brian Wujcik said. “We’re not going to intimidate anyone with our size, but we’re doing things right, little things that have added up. We’ve got a team batting average around .370 or so, our fielding percentage is up and the pitching staff is throwing strikes.”
  Handling the mound chores on this occasion was the threesome of Eric Mallo, Adrian Gonzalez and Brett Thomas. Mallo garnered the win after going the first four innings.
  Richards (11-5) totaled only six hits, but one of those was Andrew Schramm’s two-run single in the first frame.
  Thomas also lent a hand in the Bulldogs’ 10-6 triumph over De La Salle last Monday by going 2-for-2. One of the hits was a three-RBI double.
  “Offensively, he’s right around .300, and on the mound he’s got two wins and a save,” Wujcik said of Thomas. “It’s always good to find [versatile] guys like that.”
  Charlie Zeschke went 4-for-4 against the Meteors and sports an average near .600 this summer, prompting Wujcik to label the senior-to-be catcher “a machine.” Shawn Chiaramonte totaled three hits, two runs and one RBI, while Mike Marchione contributed a pair of hits.
  Schramm was the victorious pitcher in relief of Eric Rugge.
  Mallo was 2-for-2 against St. Rita last Wednesday, but Richards accrued just three other hits and wound up suffering a 6-0 defeat,
  “We didn’t hit the ball poorly, but it seemed like they came with two outs,” Wujcik said. “We never really threatened early in an inning.”
  The ’Dogs left the bags jammed in the seventh and failed to capitalize on earlier extra-base hits by A.J. Sanchez (triple) and Mallo (double).
  The Vikings’ revival from an early summer slump continued last week, as they bulldozed their way past Reavis (11-1) and Evergreen Park (12-0) after edging Mt. Carmel 3-1 in the opener of a doubleheader last Monday. The Caravan won Game 2, 5-2.
  “For as long as I’ve been coaching, it’s been a back-and-forth series [with Mt. Carmel],” St. Laurence coach Pete Lotus said. “Every game is an interesting one, to say the least.”
  The Caravan squeezed out only two hits off the Vikings’ trio of Brad Wood, John Riordan and Steve Schultz in the initial contest. While Wood’s dominance over the first three innings wasn’t surprising due to his springtime exploits and two-time status as an all-area player, the same couldn’t necessarily be said of Riordan and Schultz.
  “They’ve done great,” Lotus said of the duo. “[Schultz] didn’t get a great deal of innings last year, but he’s throwing the ball very well. His off-speed is his [best] pitch.
  “John was one of the main guys on the sophomore level and a guy we definitely need to step up next year. We’re looking at him to fill the No. 4 spot [in the rotation].”
  Mike Kornacker, St. Laurence’s acknowledged pitching ace, did damage to Mt. Carmel with his bat as he stroked a double and a pair of RBI singles in his team’s win.
  The Caravan broke through in the opening stanza of Game 2 by plating four runs and establishing an edge that would not be lost. A bases-on-balls, hit batsman and two Vikings errors were all part of the explosion.
  St. Laurence (8-4) collected its only runs on Riordan’s first-inning groundout and a wild pitch in the third.
  It was full steam ahead for the Vikings’ offense on Tuesday and Wednesday, however. Victimized first was neighboring Reavis, which gave up a baker’s dozen worth of hits to St. Laurence and got burned by back-to-back multiple-run rallies.
  The Vikings stretched their advantage out to 5-0 by tallying four times in the fourth inning and then doubled their run total in the fifth. Roger Wilson (4-for-4 with a double, four RBI) spearheaded the assault, but Kornacker, Jake Tholl, Mike Sterna, Kevin Aderman and Frank Greco all hit safely and drove in a run.
  “We’ve been swinging the bats much, much better,” Lotus said. “Even a lot of the outs we made were hit well.”
  Offense alone would have been enough to get the job done here, but St. Laurence combined its potent sticks with some top-flight pitching and solid defense to create a complete performance. On the hill, Greco, Sean Burnett, Dom Pilas and Alex Hitney all excelled as the Rams scratched out just one hit.
  And Evergreen was stung even worse the next day, as the Vikings’ first seven batters got hits and 10 runs were amassed. Mike Miller socked a two-run triple, Wood swatted a two-run double, Rob Gutierrez knocked in one teammate with his three-bagger and Nick Verta belted an RBI double to lead the charge.
  Also getting in on the act were Kornacker, Wilson and Nate Tholl, all of whom singled in one run. Jake Kolniak garnered an RBI with his groundout.
  “The last two days have been very, very good,” Lotus said. “Our whole team was swinging well.
  “We’ve played much better [of late]. All those little bumps and hiccups — if we’re not making those now, it was worth it [then]. It’s a combination of a few things, like the younger guys just feeling they can play with those older guys and getting used to being around each other.”
  And Lotus likes the personnel depth that should eventually be realized from those occurrences.
  “We’re kind of growing and we want to make sure guys don’t become complacent,” he said. “We want people to compete for spots because it makes us better as a team.”
  Mustangs coach Mark Smyth knows his club is better than its current 1-8 record might indicate. For proof, he needs only to look back about a month, when Evergreen advanced all the way to a Class 3A sectional final for the first time in school history with assistance from a large number of athletes who’ll be returning in 2014.
  And while he would have loved for the Mustangs to pose a greater challenge to St. Laurence, Smyth didn’t mind squaring off with the Vikings.
  “Summer’s fun for us to see that kind of competition,” he said. “It’s a good learning experience. You play a team like that, you’d better bring your ‘A’ game.
  “Holy cow, they really don’t let up all the way down the lineup. They pounded it.”
  Getting saddled with the pitching loss was senior-to-be Frank Meisl, who had been one of Evergreen’s shining stars during the spring campaign.
  “Frank didn’t have his best stuff,” Smyth said. “He was leaving everything up in the zone and they put the barrel on it quite a bit. The good thing is, maybe that’ll be some fuel for the fire to get ready for next year.”
  David Ziebarth enjoyed a better outing in relief, as he held the Vikings’ bats fairly well in check over a span of 3 2/3 innings. Registering the Mustangs’ lone hits were Joey Piet (double) and Kevin Gallagher.
  “We see some good things in every game,” Smyth said. “We’re not winning games, but that doesn’t matter. It’s summer baseball, and you learn about what you have and who you can depend on in reserve roles.”
  The Mustangs’ three contests prior to their matchup with St. Laurence featured them as a more formidable foe. Mt. Carmel did pin a 7-1 defeat on Evergreen, but both St. Rita and Rich Central had to fight hard to bag one-run triumphs.
  St. Rita prevailed 5-4 the week before, while the Olympians notched an 8-7 victory last Tuesday. The latter game was a bit frustrating to Smyth because the Mustangs had forged a 3-all tie in their portion of the sixth and then gone ahead 7-6 in the top of the seventh.
  “We gave it to them, they gave it to us, and we gave it back to them,” Smyth said.
  A couple of two-out errors by Evergreen enabled Rich Central to overtake its guests in its last at-bat and snatch a win away from the Mustangs. Gallagher took the loss, but Smyth was happy with how his player had performed in extended action, which became necessary in part because of the absence of two pitchers the coach might have considered using.
  “I’m proud of him,” Smyth said of Gallagher. “He’s going to be a senior and has good stuff, and this was the first time he battled [for several innings]. He kind of became a pitcher that day instead of a thrower.
  “We’re pretty solid with who we have coming back [from the spring season] and we’re super excited [about next year]. I feel we’ve got five or six solid guys to pitch for us.”
  While none could be considered a big-strikeout type, Smyth doesn’t mind.
  “Depending on your teammates to make plays — that’s the right attitude,” he said. “They’re carrying it over from the spring.”
  Piet (two-run double) and Brendan Walsh (RBI double) were Evergreen’s hitting notables versus the Olympians.
  The RedHawks fell short in their two most recent outings, as both De La Salle (7-3) and Andrew (6-5) got the better of them, the latter doing so in nine innings last Monday.
  “We’ve lost three in a row, but they were all pretty close games,” Marist coach Tom Fabrizio said. “I’m happy with some of our at-bats — we’re hitting the ball pretty good. I’m pretty much getting my questions answered, which is what I wanted.”
  The RedHawks were ahead of the Thunderbolts most of the way, but a pitching change helped Andrew muster some late-game offense and walk away with a win.
  “We just play things a little differently in the summer,” Fabrizio said. “We’re not playing to situations, but we’re trying to do certain things.”
  The Meteors shoved Marist (5-5) into an immediate hole by plating five first-inning runs, an uprising that was triggered by eight straight hits.
  “They just singled us to death,” Fabrizio said. “They’re just contact guys — nothing that scares you. We didn’t really make any mistakes, but they hit some seeing-eye balls. We battled throughout the rest of the game, which I was happy about.”
  Eric Hansen (double, RBI single) and Rich Kairis (RBI double) were the RedHawks’ top hitters. Kairis also worked on the hill, as did Patrick Meehan.
  Marist was without several players last week due to football commitments.