Offensive punch gives Bulldogs winning week
Richards not only carried big sticks last week, but it put them to good use more often than not.
Early in a baseball season, pitchers are supposed to be ahead of hitters in terms of settling into a groove. And when outdoor practices have pretty much been nonexistent due to cold temperatures and soggy fields, the theory would seem to be especially applicable.
The Bulldogs, however, never received that news.
“We’re living proof of the opposite,” Richards coach Brian Wujcik said. “We’re struggling to throw strikes, but luckily, we’ve been able to outslug a few teams. In our first five games, we’re swinging the bats pretty well — we got a double-digit number of hits in three of those.”
And in each instance, that resulted in a Bulldogs victory. Richards downed Harlan 9-5 last Monday, then added decisions over Mt. Carmel (16-15 in eight innings) and Stagg (14-4 in six innings) on Saturday and Sunday, respectively.
The Bulldogs also dropped two verdicts, as Sandburg (13-1 in five innings) and De La Salle (6-5) got the better of them in Tuesday and Wednesday clashes.
“We’ve got work to do,” Wujcik said. “We can hit with anybody, but if we allow teams to hang around because we don’t throw strikes, we can get burned by anybody.”
The most vivid example of Richards’ uncertainty on the hill occurred Saturday, when it was unable to maintain a 9-0 lead gained on the Caravan within the first two frames. Not only did Mt. Carmel eventually erase that large deficit, it inched ahead in the top of the eighth with a solo homer.
Kyle Garrett’s single and a walk to Eric Mallo began the Bulldogs’ portion of the eighth, but they were down to their last out before Shawn Chiaramonte saved the day with his game-winning two-RBI double.
“You know it’s not over [at 9-0] against a team like that, but our pitchers just could not shut them down,” Wujcik said of the Caravan. “They kept chipping away.
“On the one hand, we did a nice job of not giving up. But we didn’t have to make it so close.”
While Mt. Carmel certainly did its fair share toward generating runs, Richards inadvertently aided the Caravan’s cause by giving them a baker’s dozen worth of baserunners through either free passes or hit batsmen. That was in addition to Mt. Carmel’s 15 hits.
Only one of the Bulldogs’ five hurlers delivered more strikeouts than walks, but more important to their overall well-being was Richards’ own robust 17-hit attack. Besides Chiaramonte (3-for-6 with two doubles, four RBI and two runs), other key figures at the plate were Shane Mills (3-for-5, three RBI), AJ Sanchez (two hits, double, two RBI, three runs), Charlie Zeschke (two hits, double, two RBI, four runs), Mallo (two hits, double, one run) and Nate Natividad (two doubles, two runs, one RBI).
Sidestepping what would have been a devastating setback kept the Bulldogs in a positive frame of mind entering a rare Sunday contest, but Wujcik didn’t want that to become overconfidence.
“We said, ‘Just because you beat Mt. Carmel yesterday doesn’t mean Stagg’s not going to show up,’” Wujcik said. “You can’t take Stagg for granted.”
In the event a reminder was needed, the Chargers provided it by scoring twice in both the second and third stanzas. While Richards was able to counter those uprisings and establish a 6-4 lead after three innings, Wujcik didn’t breathe easier until his guys erupted for a six-spot in the bottom of the sixth and brought the game to a premature halt via the slaughter rule.
Sophomore Chris Zeschke’s pinch-hit double drove in the final two runs. It was, in Wujcik’s opinion, a sign of things to come.
“He’s [usually] down with the sophomores because I want him to get playing time,” Wujcik said. “But he’s going to be a fixture in the middle of our infield when he gets older. He was going to play shortstop [in the seventh], but he ended the game.”
Chiaramonte (two-run single), Noel Castro (single) and Mike Marchione (groundout) were the ‘Dogs’ other RBI men in the sixth. For the day, the three combined for seven hits and six RBI.
Eric Ruge, one of five pitchers used by Wujcik, logged the victory.
Wujcik said playing on a Sunday was a matter of having “to think outside the box now” in an attempt to make up some of the games already lost to bad weather. Coaching counterpart Matt O’Neill didn’t mind the move, but it definitely left his squad at less than full strength.
“We had about 10 guys that had [scheduling] conflicts, so we brought up a couple sophomores,” O’Neill said.
Interestingly, the younger players held up fairly well. However, some of O’Neill’s veterans endured a rough day, as Stagg (1-5) was guilty of eight errors.
“With the way they swing the bats, you can’t give them so many extra chances,” O’Neill said of Richards. “You can only pitch around so many mistakes. We’re kind of in a mental funk right now.”
Losing pitcher Brendan Kivelan gave up 11 of the Bulldogs’ runs, but only four of those were earned.
“He did what we asked him to do,” O’Neill said. “Given the circumstances, he did a pretty good job.”
CJ Casey had a double and two RBI for the Chargers. Shane McMahon and Calogelo Martinez each drove in one run, while Peter Angelos rapped a two-base hit on Stagg’s behalf.
After spotting the Falcons a 2-0 edge on Monday, the Bulldogs’ bats awakened and set in motion a momentum-shifting six-run rally. Natividad’s three-run homer, plus doubles from Mills (RBI), Mallo and Charlie Zeschke were at the heart of the fourth-inning noisemaking.
Also supplying RBI were Garrett (bunt) and Nick Mejia (single).
“It took us one time around the order to get comfortable,” said Wujcik, who watched Richards conclude its scoring with three more tallies in the fifth. Sanchez lofted a sacrifice fly, while a passed ball and Harlan error contributed the other two runs.
Has Wujcik been surprised by how well the Bulldogs’ offense — which had 11 hits here — performed in the team’s first week of action?
“Maybe ‘relieved’ is the better word — we were relieved to finally start playing games,” he said. “We’re not home-run guys, but we can drive the gaps and run the bases particularly well. We hit a lot of doubles.
“As soon as our pitching comes around — and I’m confident it will — we’re going to be OK.”
Ryan Thompson pocketed the pitching victory after throwing the first four innings on a yield of six hits and one base-on-balls. He struck out four.
One day after besting Harlan, the Bulldogs ran afoul of Eagles hurler Sean Leland, who held them in check even though only two Richards batters went down on third strikes.
“We did a real nice job of putting the ball in play, but we never really put up much of a fight,” Wujcik said.
Castro’s fielder’s choice chased in the ‘Dogs’ lone run in the fourth inning, which meant little since Sandburg had already piled up 11 runs by that juncture. Chris Stearns (3-for-3, two doubles, three RBI, two runs) was the Eagles’ ringleader, but four other players also smacked at least one extra-base hit.
De La Salle 6
The Meteors snapped a 5-all tie in their half of the seventh, as two singles and a sacrifice bunt were effectively pieced together.
“Get ‘em on, get ‘em over, get ‘em in,” Wujcik said, referring to De La Salle’s final-inning efficiency. “We had opportunities, but we couldn’t come up with the clutch hit [often enough].”
The Bulldogs did most of their scoring in the bottom of the third, as Natividad’s bases-clearing double culminated a four-run surge. Chiaramonte knocked in one run in the first.
Richards put runners aboard in three of the final four stanzas, including the leadoff man twice. The Bulldogs’ best shot at adding to their total was in the fifth, but the Meteors recorded a putout at third when a Richards player tried to advance two bases on a teammate’s single.
Richards began South Suburban Conference Red play this week, starting with back-to-back meetings with defending division champ Oak Lawn on Monday and Tuesday.
Harlan 101 002 1 - 5
Richards 000 630 x - 9
Richards 2B: Chiaramonte, Mallo, Mills, Cha. Zeschke. HR: Natividad. RBI: Natividad 3, Garrett, Mejia, Mills, Sanchez. WP: Thompson (1-0).
Sandburg 421 42 - 13
Richards 000 10 - 1
Sandburg 2B: Stearns 2, Gutierrez, Kociper, Landgraf, Santiago. WP: Leland (1-0).
Richards 2B: Chiaramonte. RBI: Castro. LP: Villafuerte (0-1).
De La Salle 301 100 1 - 6
Richards 104 000 0 - 5
Richards 2B: Natividad. RBI: Natividad 3, Chiaramonte. LP: Schramm (0-1).
Mt. Carmel 004 221 51 - 15
Richards 270 140 02 - 16
Richards 2B: Chiaramonte 2, Natividad 2, Mallo, Sanchez, Cha. Zeschke. RBI: Chiaramonte 4, Mills 3, Sanchez 2, Cha. Zeschke 2, Castro, Mejia, Natividad. WP: Mallo (1-0).
Stagg 022 000 - 4
Richards 222 026 - 14
Stagg 2B: Angelos, Casey. RBI: Casey 2, C. Martinez, McMahon. LP: Kivlehan (0-1).
Richards 2B: Sanchez, Cha. Zeschke, Chr. Zeschke. RBI: Castro 2, Chiaramonte 2, Marchione 2, Chr. Zeschke 2, Mallo, Natividad, Sanchez, Cha. Zeschke. WP: Ruge (1-0).