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Summer baseball roundup

  • Written by Ken Karrson

Locals left out of Lawler Classic

Once again, a baseball state tournament lacked local flavor. No area team was able to advance as far as the supersectional round during the IHSA spring playoffs, and the Phil Lawler Summer Classic that got underway this past Monday at North Central College and Benedictine University was also devoid of neighborhood schools. 

Six area entries, in fact, were one-and-done in regional play, while another was two-and-through. Just Sandburg and St. Laurence — the only local clubs to ever win summer championships — made it as far as a regional finale, and both fell short in their quest for an Illinois High School Baseball Coaches Association Elite Eight berth. 


  The Eagles narrowly missed, though, as they dropped a 4-3 verdict to Minooka in last Thursday’s Lockport Regional title clash. Longtime Chicago Catholic League rival St. Rita showed the Vikings the exit door in the Richards Regional by knocking them off 10-3 that same day.
  Richards had squared off with the Mustangs the day before and suffered a 6-0 setback as sophomore Justin Vivar stopped the Bulldogs on two hits. Eric Mallo’s bunt single in the sixth broke up Vivar’s no-hit bid and Shawn Chiaramonte added a triple in the seventh.
  “I thought we hit the ball pretty good, but they caught it,” Richards assistant coach Jeff Kortz said of St. Rita. “[Vivar] hit his spots pretty well and they were good in all phases.”
  As for Sandburg, it reeled off four straight wins at Lockport before suffering the gut-wrenching defeat versus Minooka. The Indians did all their scoring in one inning, in part by taking advantage of two Eagles errors.
  Minooka’s rally erased a 2-0 edge Sandburg had established in the second stanza.
  “After you take the lead, you’ve got to put up zeros after that and lock them down,” Eagles assistant coach George Fear said. “We were disappointed, for sure, at the end, but our pitching gave us a chance to win every single game. We [also] had consistent at-bats — we had a lot of deep flyouts [in this contest] — and picked the ball up for the most part.”
  Sandburg was within a run in the seventh when it proceeded to load the bases with no one out, but the Indians registered a key double play to lessen the threat. The back end of the twin killing featured an Eagle being tagged out at the plate on a bullet throw from Minooka’s right fielder. A groundout then concluded the game.
  Prior to losing to the Indians, Sandburg upended both Joliet Central (11-1) and Romeoville (9-4) last Monday, Providence Catholic (4-1) on Tuesday and Lemont (3-2 in nine innings) on Wednesday. Chris Stearns’ walk-off homer was the difference against Lemont.
  The Eagles (11-3) also used the long ball to tally their other markers, as Alec Martinez and Julian Gutierrez went deep in the first and fourth frames, respectively. Equally important to Sandburg’s well-being was pitcher Bryan Pall, who worked eight innings and struck out 13.
  “He was nasty,” Fear said of his hurler. “Bryan probably made [only] three mistakes in the game. Lemont has some very good players and I’d be shocked if they didn’t make a run in [Class] 3A next year, but he was dominant and had the kind of stuff which is hard to hit. It was one of the better outings I’ve seen.”
  The Eagles, who finished with 10 hits, allowed the Indians to forge a pair of ties before getting the final say on Stearns’ blast.
***
  Providence, which had slipped past Chicago Christian 5-4 last Monday, held a 1-0 advantage over Sandburg on Tuesday heading into the seventh. And things didn’t look any better for the latter as that stanza progressed, as the Eagles were eventually down to their last strike.
  But Ben Kociper’s single pro­longed Sandburg’s plate appearance. A hit batsman, Jim Landgraf’s infield hit and a wild pitch helped draw the Eagles even, then Jim Roche (RBI single) and Martinez (two-run double) delivered hits that turned the tide for good.
  Providence put two men aboard in its half of the seventh, but Pall, who had relieved Sean Leland, induced a game-ending double play.
  “We hit a lot of balls on the screws, [so] if we would have lost 1-0, it was one of those games where you’d say, ‘What can you do?’” Fear said. “We felt good because we hit the ball hard, and finally something fell in for us. We were down and out [before that], but we were able to come back.”
  Leland pitched a solid game for Sandburg, as the lone run notched off him resulted from a bad-hop single that bounced off an Eagles infielder’s face. Although Sandburg was unable to ultimately position itself for a run at its first summer championship since 2007, Fear thought the spirited display in the regional round would present long-term benefits to the Eagles.
  “I think it was great for our confidence,” he said. “We played some good teams here and battled. We can always come back to this when we’re in a funk, which every team goes through during a season.”

ST. LAURENCE
  Before getting silenced on three hits by St. Rita ace Mike Costanzo, the Vikings’ offense was operating in high gear.
  St. Laurence recorded three straight lopsided victories in the Richards Regional as it routed Shepard (10-1), Homewood-Flossmoor (13-3) and De La Salle (11-1) in succession. The Vikings secured the latter pair of triumphs in just six innings.
  “We played very well and swung the bats well,” St. Laurence coach Pete Lotus said. “We definitely put it all together.”
  The Vikings (13-6) actually fell behind the Astros 1-0 last Monday after Jake Hart belted an RBI triple for Shepard, but Frank Greco’s triple and an Astros miscue enabled St. Laurence to pull even in its portion of the second inning. From there, the Vikings gradually pulled away, using a three-run fifth to construct an insurmountable 8-1 edge.
  “They’re a good team and they showed it,” Shepard coach Frank DiFoggio said of St. Laurence. “Both sides made mistakes, but they took advantage of ours.”
  DiFoggio claimed his squad “had some opportunities,” but two such instances got short-circuited by putouts at the plate. Vikings pitcher Rob Gutierrez also hamstrung the Astros at critical moments.
  “He had another gear he went to once we got guys on [base],” DiFoggio said.
  Shepard was guilty of four errors, which paved the way for St. Laurence’s fifth-inning outburst. None of the Vikings’ tallies in that stanza was earned.
  “They didn’t really pound the ball,” DiFoggio said. “They only hit two balls hard. They had a lot of high school base hits.”
  Despite the errors on this occasion, DiFoggio thought defense was generally a strong suit for the Astros (7-9) this summer.
  “We usually didn’t lose games because of the dropped fly ball or the ball going between our legs,” he said. “It was just little things, little teachable moments that we need to learn from. If we do, we could be a really good team.”
***
  St. Laurence continued rolling the next day as it unloaded 11 hits and complemented them with 10 free passes, a combination that proved lethal to H-F. Those Vikings had moved on in the tournament by shutting out Oak Lawn 4-0 on Monday.
  Mike Kornacker was St. Laurence’s big gun as he went 4-for-5 with two homers and five RBI. Four of the RBI came on his sixth-inning round-tripper, the grand slam serving as the linchpin to a victory-securing six-run uprising.
  “All summer, he’s hit,” Lotus said of his Purdue University-bound senior-to-be. “He’s amazing. There’s not anything on the baseball field Mike can’t do. He’s one of the most talented kids I’ve ever had.
  “Once you have a [two-time Player of the Year like] Kyle Wood, you wonder if you’ll ever get another kid like that, in terms of not only talent, but work ethic and leadership. Maybe because he’s been up on varsity since he was a freshman, I’ve noticed [his development] more, but it’s been great to see Mike grow.”
  As had happened versus Shepard, the Vikings spotted their foe an early advantage. H-F was ahead 2-0 and 3-1 before bases-loaded walks to Mike Miller and Roger Wilson in the third inning squared things at 3-all. Nate Tholl’s two-RBI triple, plus a throwing error attached to the end of that same play put St. Laurence ahead to stay.
  Also making their presences felt on offense were Kevin White (two hits, two RBI, two bases-on-balls) and Brad Wood (two hits). Wood reached base four times on the day. Relief pitcher John Riordan was the Vikings’ main man on the hill as he fanned four and allowed just one hit over a 2 1/3-inning span.
***
  More fireworks were launched against De La Salle, which reached Wednesday’s semifinal by virtue of a 4-0 decision over Brother Rice on Tuesday.
  While Wood was handcuffing the Meteors and limiting them to only two hits, the Vikings were backing him with an 11-hit onslaught. Kornacker slugged two more homers, Miller had one, and both players drove in a total of three runs.
  Between Tuesday and Wednesday, Kornacker went 7-for-8.
  Heard from as well were Wood (double, RBI), White (double, RBI) and Tholl (two RBI). St. Laurence collected four runs in its initial plate appearance and struck for four more in the sixth to wrap up a slaughter-rule triumph.
***
  Wood’s two-bagger was the team’s lone extra-base hit off St. Rita’s Costanzo on Thursday. The Mustangs used a six-run fifth frame to build an 8-1 cushion and shove the Vikings into an inescapable hole.
  Costanzo had also orchestrated St. Laurence’s departure from the spring postseason, doing so after the Vikings had pinned a regular-season loss on him.
  “That’s how it usually goes between us,” Lotus said, referring to the back-and-forth nature of the St. Rita-St. Laurence series. “Unfortunately, the last two times they ended our season, and that doesn’t sit too well [with our players]. We have to do something about that.”
  Lotus felt the Vikings “didn’t play our best game, and that was a little frustrating.” That was evident in St. Rita’s pivotal inning, which began with a St. Laurence error and was highlighted by a bases-clearing two-bagger.
  Even more debilitating to the Vikings, however, was their sudden lack of batting punch. They went hitless until the sixth inning, and Lotus thought his guys might have been pressing. He certainly felt that was the case with Kornacker on the mound.
  “I think he tried to make perfect pitches,” Lotus said, “and that catches up to you. I thought we were all putting pressure on ourselves.
  “If we do a little bit more offensively, it could have been different, but we just didn’t have great at-bats. The momentum swings are dramatic in these games, and we didn’t do a good job of executing our game plan to put pressure on their defense.”
  St. Laurence was bidding for a second consecutive appearance in the Lawler Summer Classic and its third in four years. The Vikings won the summer title back in 1981.
  “Hopefully, we learn from it,” Lotus said of his club’s latest experience. “Some people don’t put much stock in the summer season, but I enjoy both formats.
  “I like the double elimination [used in the Lawler Summer Classic] and, believe it or not, I like the four-games-in-four-days format of the regional because you see the toughness of the kids. Unless you have rainouts, you don’t [typically] play four games in four days in the spring.”

RICHARDS
  Before running into St. Rita, the Bulldogs (16-6) scored postseason wins over Eisenhower (12-2) and Bremen (7-6).
  The second of those encounters became a nail-biter after the Braves expunged a 4-0 deficit in the top of the fifth. Two more runs in the seventh then put Bremen ahead and placed the pressure squarely on Richards.
  Nate Natividad’s one-out single gave the Bulldogs some hope in the bottom of that inning. After a passed ball moved him into scoring position, Natividad raced home on Chiaramonte’s single. A Braves error followed and then Mike Marchione smacked a two-run double to complete Richards’ comeback.
  Kortz was impressed with the ’Dogs’ staging of their rally, particularly the roles Chiaramonte and Marchione played in it.
  “It was hotter than blazes at that time,” he said, “and Shawn and Mike had been at summer [football] camp from 8 to 9:45 in the morning. So it was already a long day for them.”
  Spearheading Richards’ earlier scoring were Charlie Zeschke (two-run homer in the fourth inning) and Mallo (RBI triple in the second). Alex Villafuerte worked four-plus stanzas on the hill and was effective for most of that stay.
***
  Subduing Eisenhower at 10 a.m. on Monday was far less challenging for the Bulldogs, who put up back-to-back six-spots in the first two innings to leave the Cardinals in the dust.
  “Eisenhower was very young and eager to play, but our guys were focused,” Kortz said. “We hit the ball and we pounded the gaps, and everyone in the lineup got a hit.”
  Taking care of the pitching duties were Brett Thomas and Eric Ruge. The former went four frames and surrendered just two hits.
  “[Going] 16-6 isn’t bad,” Kortz said. “I think our kids are happy, but I don’t think they’re satisfied.”
  “I still think it was a productive summer,” head coach Brian Wujcik said. “We’ve got some guys who can play next year and we answered some questions. As far as I’m concerned, that’s the purpose of the summer.”

BROTHER RICE
  Alex Alarcon, who’ll be vying for the starting spot at quarterback for the Crusaders football team this fall, displayed his abilities on the diamond last Monday by pitching Rice to a 10-0 triumph over neighboring Evergreen Park.
  The Mustangs had given the Crusaders (14-7) a serious scare during a regular-season meeting a couple weeks earlier before absorbing a 2-1 loss, but Evergreen was no threat to Rice this time, thanks to Alarcon, who held the Mustangs without a hit through four innings. Kevin Farmer’s bad-hop single and another single by Mike Rizzo represented the full extent of Evergreen’s noisemaking.
  “He was bringing it early and then went to his curveball, and we couldn’t get much going against their guy,” Mustangs coach Mark Smyth said.
  The same couldn’t be said of the Crusaders, who did a fair amount of damage versus Evergreen’s mound duo of Frank Meisl and Aaron Green Van Zee. Six runs in the fourth frame staked Rice to a comfortable lead and assured it of additional tournament play.
  “You’ve got to give them credit because we didn’t make any misplays at all,” Smyth said. “We’re very high on [Meisl and Green Van Zee], but they got hit pretty hard, which hasn’t happened very often. [The Crusaders] swung it pretty good.”
  Although his squad bagged only one win this summer, Smyth was satisfied with what he had witnessed from it. He believes Corey Miller will become a reliable replacement for the departed Kyle Venhuizen at first base and that Kevin Gallagher can also be an influential figure next spring.
  “We answered a few questions and there were a lot of positives, so it was a good summer,” Smyth said. “You never have your cohesive unit, so to speak, so the record in the summer means very little. It’s a good group coming back [in 2014], and it’ll be easier to build on this because of what we did this [past] spring.”
  Evergreen netted three Class 3A postseason triumphs in late May, winning the school’s first regional crown in 55 years in the process and reaching a sectional final for the first time ever.

CHICAGO CHRISTIAN
  The Knights won 11 times in 14 games during the regular summer campaign, but they ended 2013 with an 0-1 playoff ledger after suffering a one-run defeat against Providence last Monday.
  The 5-4 outcome tilted the Celtics’ way largely because Chicago Christian (11-4) never completely recovered from an early blitz. Providence constructed a 5-0 edge in the first inning.
  “If we don’t spot them five runs, we’re right there,” Knights coach Eric Brauer said. “We just came up short.”
  The Celtics’ assault was somewhat surprising in that much of it was mounted against all-area pitcher Josh Novak. The senior-to-be retired only one of the six batters he faced while walking three and giving up a double.
  “When you do that, you can do a lot of damage with a minimum of hits,” Brauer said, referring to a team’s ability to coax free passes. “As a junior, Josh wasn’t doing that last spring. We were kind of scratching and clawing right from the first pitch.”
  Junior-to-be Christian Bolhuis slowed Providence after that, and RBI hits from Jack De Vries (double) and Mike Santarelli gave Chicago Christian’s offense a lift. Max Kerfin’s two-run single brought the Knights within one in the seventh inning, but the locals — who totaled nine hits in the game — left the potential tying run stranded.
  Christian’s inability to capitalize on a two-on, one-out situation in the sixth also undermined its quest to overtake a deeper foe.
  “They’ve got 40 guys on their summer team, so they probably bounced guys in and out to get them playing time,” Brauer said of the Celtics. “We had 16 guys and were limited in what we could do [differently], but I think we’ve got enough pieces of the puzzle to do well [in 2014].”

OAK LAWN
  Four hits were all the Spartans (6-8) could muster against H-F, which rendered moot a solid exhibition from their own pitcher, Mitch Swatek, last Monday. Swatek whiffed six batters in five innings while walking just one and scattering seven hits.
  “With a pitching performance like that, we should win about 90 percent of the games [we play],” Oak Lawn coach Bill Gerny said. “Overall, I was happy with how tough we played them. It was nice to see, but we have to find a way to score runs.
  “Their defense was lock-down and their pitching was a little better than ours. Their curveballs weren’t overpowering, but we couldn’t make solid contact.”
  When Matt Dunne doubled off the left-field fence and a second man reached base with only one out, the Spartans threatened to break through in the second stanza, but they came up empty. The Vikings then struck for a couple runs in their half of the third, using two doubles and a single to inflict harm on Oak Lawn.
  The Spartans also got no mileage out of Brandon Quillin’s leadoff single in the first.
  “It was 4-0 going into the seventh, and that [margin] seemed big,” Gerny said. “We had a prime opportunity to score runs [early], but we didn’t and that kind of set the tone. It was like pulling teeth after that to get baserunners.
  “Six-and-eight is not the best record, but we didn’t play any slouches. We have a lot to build on and we know now where our guys have to do a little bit of work.”

STAGG
  Also shown the sidelines in their initial playoff contest were the Chargers (3-13), who fell 8-1 to Marian Catholic last Monday.
  Peter Angelos’ fourth-inning homer ruined the Spartans’ shutout bid, but Stagg was able to garner only three other hits on the day. Compounding the Chargers’ problems were seven bases-on-balls issued to Marian batters.
  “They didn’t really hit the ball that hard, but we walked a lot of guys,” Stagg coach Matt O’Neill said. “And we didn’t really threaten a lot.”
  Despite his sub-par performance here, pitcher C.J. Casey did enough good things during the summer to be considered a strong candidate to fill the No. 3 position in the rotation behind Max Strus and Jeff Goral in 2014. O’Neill believes the Chargers will be decent enough on the mound, but he hopes to see further improvement in other areas.
  “Guys have got to continue to become better athletes,” he said. “We talk about ‘controllable things,’ and I think guys came and worked hard, but we’re stepping up in class next year.
  “You can get lessons on your own, or from us, but we talk about figuring things out on your own. You need to figure out for yourself what you’re doing wrong and how to correct it.”

MARIST
  The RedHawks (6-8) were the first team to feel St. Rita’s wrath, as they got bounced from the tournament by an 11-1 score last Monday.
  Amazingly, the two clubs were locked in a scoreless duel after four stanzas, but then “the doors blew open,” according to Marist boss Tom Fabrizio.
  “I was proud of the way our kids battled and it was a real competitive game through five [innings], but it turned fast,” he said. “Once we got behind, it was like, ‘This game’s over.’
  “I always expect us to play seven [solid] innings; we only played five, and look at what happened. You can lose by 10 if you don’t play hard for one inning.”
  Robert Hovey gave the RedHawks a respectable pitching effort through four-plus frames as he struck out four and scattered seven hits. Pat Meehan’s sacrifice fly that plated Mike Trbovic in the top of the fifth had Marist even at that juncture, but before the Mustangs could be retired in the bottom of the stanza they had grabbed a 5-1 lead.
  A hit batsman opened the inning, and St. Rita also stroked two RBI extra-base hits (double and triple) to fuel the surge. Six more runs in the sixth then finished off the RedHawks.
  Mustangs pitcher Nick Goldsmith quieted Marist on four hits while whiffing five.
  “You can get away with that with some teams, but not them,” Fabrizio said. “You’ve got to give yourself a chance.”
  That’s what Fabrizio believes the RedHawks will have in the spring of 2014, even though as many as six juniors could be part of the everyday lineup.
  “We won’t have a lot of depth, but I think we’re going to have a few good [pitching] arms and we have a chance to be OK,” Fabrizio said. “If we have our best players out there all the time, I think we’ll develop that consistency we need.”