Local teams hit the road
Knights, Crusaders, RedHawks able to open 2014 season
Spring trips to Florida are commonplace for many high school- and college-aged students.
Baseball players at Marist, however, opted to travel in the other direction. They went to Arizona, where cold temperatures were nowhere to be found and they were able to begin their 2014 season on schedule.
Athletes at Chicago Christian and Brother Rice, meanwhile, chose Jacksonville as their destination last weekend — Jacksonville, Ill., that is. While winter hadn’t yet loosened its grip on the downstate locale, either, that town’s Lenz Field is covered with artificial turf, meaning baseball games were able to get played.
Both the Knights and Crusaders saw action twice on Saturday, and the former triumphed in each instance. Wins over Midwest Central (6-2) and Valmeyer (13-11) gave Christian a 6-0 mark in three journeys to Jacksonville over the past two years.
More importantly, coupled with a 12-5 victory over defending Class 2A champion Lisle on Thursday at the Ray Kroc Center in Chicago, Saturday’s twin successes got another Knights campaign off to a strong start.
“It was good to be playing instead of sitting around,” Christian coach Eric Brauer said. “Except for about 15 minutes, we had not been outside, so we were just hoping to see everything in live time. We wanted to see how guys react.”
Brauer, who guided the Knights to 30 wins a year ago, especially liked what he saw in Jacksonville, where 17 different players “contributed something to help us. It was just a team day.”
Christian appeared headed for a two-game split after Valmeyer plated seven runs in the bottom of the fifth to create a 10-4 lead for itself. Playing in temperatures that never rose above the 30s and in a game that eventually stretched to well over three hours, the Knights certainly didn’t seem poised to respond with an outburst of their own.
But they did. Eleven men went to the plate in the top of the sixth and six runs scored, the tying one crossing the plate on Trevor Wolterink’s single. Wolterink was batting for Sean O’Meara, who had injured his foot after hitting a foul ball off it. Just before Wolterink’s single, Mike Santarelli had drawn a two-out walk and freshman Zach Frieling followed with a two-RBI double.
“One thing we’ve really tried to establish is the next-man-up philosophy,” Brauer said. “They were a very good hitting team, but we just kept battling all day.
“Our kids were great. There was a lot of positive energy and team bonding, and they really had a lot of focus and competed hard.”
For the day, Max Kerfin was the Knights’ offensive ringleader as he slugged three doubles and coaxed four free passes. Frieling, one of five other Christian players to collect more than one hit, doubled twice and knocked in five runs. He also reached base on a walk and by being plunked with a pitch.
Jack De Vries was another notable with two hits, three RBI, a sacrifice fly and one base-on-balls. Wolterink, the Knights’ last pitcher, picked up the victory in Game 2 after forcing Valmeyer to leave the sacks filled in the bottom of the seventh.
Junior Christian Bolhuis, who had worked briefly against Lisle two days before, threw four innings of Saturday’s opener and held Midwest Central without an earned run in what ultimately became a 6-2 Chicago Christian triumph. Bolhuis struck out 10, allowed one hit and surrendered three walks while tossing about 70 pitches.
“We wanted to extend him a little bit [more than before] and build a pitch count,” Brauer said of Bolhuis, who was greatly aided by a 6-4-3 double play the Knights executed in the sixth frame while Midwest Central had the bases loaded.
In its season-opener on Thursday, Christian answered Lisle’s four-spot in the top of the first with five runs. Bolhuis’ two-run double and O’Meara’s RBI single highlighted the rally.
The Knights were clinging to a 6-5 edge in the fifth when they finally blew the contest wide open. De Vries’ bases-clearing triple was the critical blow in a six-run uprising, but Kerfin (double), Bolhuis (single) and O’Meara (bases-filled walk) also chipped in with RBI.
“It was a nice way to start [the season],” Brauer said. “I was very pleased with the outcome. The strike zone was very tight in the first inning, so there were some walks, but there were also a lot of hits.”
Four of Christian’s seven safeties went for extra bases, including a double by Frieling, while Lisle was limited to four hits, one of which was a leadoff homer in the top of the first. Dan Vos, the Knights’ second of four hurlers, pocketed the win.
Before embarking on a nine-day trip to Florida on Sunday, Christian was slated to take the field three times this week. A date with Eisenhower on Monday at the Kroc Center got things underway, and matchups with Elmwood Park and Momence today and Saturday, respectively, are also on tap.
The Crusaders also got one game in prior to arriving in Jacksonville. Brother Rice ushered in the 2014 campaign on Thursday at Wheaton College, where it downed Whitney Young 11-3.
Erich Lieser’s hit got the Crusaders on the board in the first stanza, but it wasn’t until the fifth when Rice seized control. An eight-run explosion in that frame did the trick, as Kevin Biondic and Kyle Hilliard both belted two-RBI hits. Also driving in a run was Andrew Dyke with a single.
The inning had begun with a walk, Dolphins error and Mike Massey’s bunt single.
“It was nice to see our bats compete and us play pretty well,” Crusaders coach John McCarthy said. “We’d played a few intersquad games, but it was definitely exciting to get outside and compete [in an actual contest]. Our defense was outstanding and the pitching was pretty good.”
Freshman Ryan Kutt, who relieved Mike Enriquez on the hill, logged his first high school victory by throwing two scoreless frames. Lieser and Hilliard paced the offense with two hits apiece, and the former also scored twice.
Rice continued traveling the high road on Saturday, as it rode Lieser’s career performance to a 10-0 whitewash of Morris. Lieser was responsible for the first seven Crusaders runs as he brought in three teammates with a first-inning double and then swatted an inside-the-park grand slam in the second.
Dyke added a triple and RBI to Rice’s production, and Kutt (single) and Biondic (fielder’s choice) each drove in a run as well.
That was more than enough support for pitcher Brian Musielak, who handcuffed the Redskins throughout the game. Musielak, who won seven games a year ago, whiffed six, walked no one and yielded just two hits.
“He changes speeds really well and keeps people off-balance, and he really battled,” McCarthy said of his hurler. “He attacks hitters. He was very sharp and very efficient.
“I was very, very pleased with the [overall] efficiency we were showing. The [weather] conditions made it tough to pick up the baseball, so I was very proud of their effort and their attitudes. It was really, really good to see.”
McCarthy’s opinion didn’t change in the aftermath of Game 2, even though Carmel prevented the Crusaders from starting 3-0 by handing out a 4-3 defeat on Saturday. Two of Rice’s runs came without a hit, as it scored once on a double-play grounder and another time on a balk.
“Carmel Catholic’s one of the best teams in the Chicago area,” McCarthy said. “Leaving the week 2-1, we feel pretty good.”
The Crusaders were slated for four games this week, although McCarthy doubted all of them would get played.
Seven games spread out over five days kept the RedHawks busy in Arizona, and they prospered more often than not. Four victories were collected during the week and two of the defeats were administered by only a single run.
“It was a very successful 4-3 trip, in my opinion,” Marist coach Tom Fabrizio said. “The temperature was in the low 80s every single day, not a drop of rain, and those were awesome facilities.”
Seeing as how, like everyone else in the Chicagoland area, the RedHawks had spent almost no time outdoors prior to their opener, Fabrizio’s goals were rather modest at the outset.
“We’re kind of a scrappy group, not super loaded with talent, so we wanted just to compete and not back down from anybody,” he said.
It was mission accomplished, save for the opening contest with Deer Creek (Okla.) High School on the same day Marist arrived in town after a long journey. The RedHawks were blanked 12-0, did not get a hit and committed five errors on defense. Highlights were limited to Blake Bieniek and Tommy Finwall both drawing a pair of walks.
“It was as bad as an opening game could be,” Fabrizio said. “The energy level was not where it needed to be. We told our guys, ‘That Game 1 was your mulligan — now, I expect you to play well the rest of the way.’ And we pretty much did, which was good to see.”
Marist’s revival began on Tuesday, when it upended Bixby (Okla.) High School 9-5 behind the batting of Pat Meehan (two hits, one RBI), Eric Hanson (two hits) and Kyle Barrett (one hit, two RBI). A four-run second inning keyed the RedHawks’ attack.
Robert Hovey pitched the first three stanzas to earn the triumph. Bixby notched just one earned run off the senior.
Marist may have actually played even better on Wednesday, although there was little to show for the effort as eventual tourney champion Liberty (Ariz.) High School squeezed out a 4-3 win. Liberty tallied the tying and deciding runs in its half of the sixth on a RedHawks error and pop foul.
Ryan Kairis threw well for Marist in a losing cause as he went the distance and allowed just five hits. Only two of Liberty’s runs off him were earned.
“It was a tough way to lose, [but] anytime we have him on the mound, we have a chance to win,” Fabrizio said of Kairis. “He’s a real crafty lefty and teams don’t hit him [much]. Their coach told me, ‘Your guy had us baffled.’
“He throws three pitches for strikes and, all around, he’s one of our top players.”
Meehan had two hits and two RBI to lead the RedHawks’ offense. Bieniek chipped in a hit, walk and two runs.
In the first of two Thursday encounters, Marist knocked off Deer Valley (Ariz.) 11-8, thanks largely to a five-run explosion in the third inning and another three-run rally in the fifth. Interestingly, the RedHawks prospered despite smacking a mere four hits.
“It was kind of a weird game,” said Fabrizio, whose squad benefited from eight Deer Valley errors. “We had a lot of kids playing and we were kind of playing it as a JV game.”
Brett Callaghan and Tyler Haizel both had one hit and two RBI on Marist’s behalf. Sophomore John Carmody pocketed the pitching victory, while Meehan notched a save by throwing the final 2 1/3 innings.
Game 2 was another heartbreaker, as the RedHawks fell 2-1 to Broken Arrow (Okla.), which snapped a 1-all tie with a run in the sixth. Marist outhit Broken Arrow 5-4 as Barrett was masterful on the mound.
“Even we weren’t thinking that,” Fabrizio said, referring to Barrett’s impressive performance. “We didn’t know what he would do.
“This was a very good team, but he really handled them. He was throwing the breaking ball for strikes, and that was the biggest reason we stayed in it.”
Kairis and Bieniek evenly split four of the RedHawks’ five hits between them. Kairis knocked in Bieniek with Marist’s lone marker in the third frame.
The RedHawks scored in four of the first six innings and used that noisemaking as the foundation for a 7-6 triumph over Boulder Creek (Ariz.) on Friday.
Kairis (two hits), Mike Trbovic (RBI double) and Finwall (one hit, one RBI) were the offensive leaders for Marist, while Bieniek and Meehan shared the mound chores. The latter was credited with the victory after tossing the final four stanzas and not giving up an earned run.
Playing for the sixth time in four days, the RedHawks may have surprised some people by not exhibiting any signs of fatigue. Fabrizio, however, didn’t include himself in that group.
“Our guys are in pretty good condition, so I wasn’t sensing anything like that,” he said. “The pace, to me, was normal. If anything, we were still getting our feet wet.”
Marist concluded its trip later on Friday with an 8-6 conquest of Sierra Linda (Ariz.), which had already played about two-dozen games this season. The RedHawks scored six times between the third and fourth innings, with input from Dylan Woodworth (two hits, one run), Callaghan (one hit, two RBI) and Haizel (one hit, one RBI, one run) laying the groundwork.
Matt McKenzie, who took the loss against Deer Creek on Monday, squared his ledger at 1-1. He was the last of four pitchers used by Fabrizio in Friday’s second contest.
One notable achievement for Marist was its ongoing ability to be successful on the bags. The RedHawks stole 15 bases in Arizona while getting caught just once, which Fabrizio views as a big plus for his club.
“I don’t think we’ll ever be a team getting double-digit hits in a game, so there’s not a lot of room for error,” he said. “This is the first time we’ve ever been like that on the bases because we have kids who can do it now.”