Victory gives Spartans psychological boost
The victory amount rose by just one, but the confidence level grew exponentially because of it.
In a nutshell, that described Oak Lawn’s baseball week, which featured a 10-7 win over Morton last Tuesday as its lone legitimate high point. However, that triumph also represented a breakthrough for the Spartans, whose first three outings of the year all ended with them as a shutout victim.
The last of those occurred on Monday, when Sandburg’s Matthias Dietz overwhelmed Oak Lawn batters and fired a no-hitter in what became a 7-0 Eagles victory in their season-opener. Dietz struck out nine straight men to begin the contest and finished the day with 12 whiffs.
“This guy came out and was just as good,” Spartans coach Bill Gerny said, comparing Dietz with Lincoln-Way Central hurler Brandon Bass and a trio of St. Rita pitchers who had stymied Oak Lawn previously.
“The wind was blowing in pretty hard and we were swinging backwards. That was a pretty solid team, top to bottom, with pitching, defense and everything.”
The Spartans’ only real chance to do any damage against Dietz was in the fourth stanza, when their first two hitters drew walks. A successful pickoff play at second base undermined Oak Lawn, which then saw Sandburg survive an ensuing error on a bunt and emerge from the inning unscathed.
Spartans pitcher Mitch Swatek threw credibly himself over the first four frames, as the Eagles held just a 1-0 edge at that point. Jim Landgraf’s two-run triple keyed a three-run surge for Sandburg in the fifth, and the visitors cruised in an easy winner as Alec Martinez contributed a pair of hits to their cause as well.
Oak Lawn 10
The Spartans ended their scoring dry spell by plating single runs in both the third and fourth innings on Tuesday, but that still left them staring at a 3-2 deficit as they prepared to bat against the Mustangs in the top of the fifth.
Things changed quickly, however. Swatek’s two-RBI double fueled a three-run uprising, and then Oak Lawn tallied twice more in the seventh to put itself on the brink of a triumph.
Morton thwarted the plan with its three runs in the bottom of that same stanza, but only momentarily as the Spartans answered with a game-clinching three-spot in the eighth. Brandon Quillin’s two-run single was the key hit in Oak Lawn’s final plate appearance.
Ryne Melnik (RBI singles in the fourth and seventh), Joe Dodaro (RBI double) and Matt Dunne (RBI single) were other offensive notables. The latter also bagged the pitching victory by going the distance and striking out 12.
“It seems like our problem right now is closing out games — we should have closed this one out in the seventh,” Gerny said. “But this was the first game where our bats finally started to do something.
“We’ve been seeing the No. 1 pitcher on [some of] the best teams in the state, but we were able to do a little damage against [Morton’s] No. 1, who would be a top pitcher in our conference but isn’t a Division I recruit. I think the Morton game was a shot in the arm for everybody and it gave [our athletes] a little bit of confidence.”
Lincoln-Way North 5
Oak Lawn 4
That wasn’t merely wishful thinking on Gerny’s part. Although the Spartans were unable to claim another triumph the rest of the week, they also did nothing to embarrass themselves against a trio of respectable opponents.
First up were the Phoenix, who had been one of the south suburbs’ premier diamond contingents a year ago. Still formidable, Lincoln-Way North nevertheless found itself in arrears of Oak Lawn by a 4-3 score through six innings on Wednesday.
The Phoenix squeezed out the tying run in their half of the seventh, however, and then tallied again in the eighth to snatch an apparent victory away from the Spartans.
“That was a tough one,” Gerny said. “So far, I think that was the best game we’ve played. Lincoln-Way North has a great program, but we went toe-to-toe with them and had them on the ropes. We had a chance to close them out.
“Lincoln-Way North players were jumping around and celebrating after they won — when was the last time you saw that when a team beat Oak Lawn? We’re putting a scare in some teams. It’d be nice to shock them all the way.”
The Spartans expunged a 2-1 Phoenix lead by tallying three times in the fifth inning, with singles by Justin Swatek, John Roberts and Matt Witkowski serving as the RBI generators. Oak Lawn nearly picked up another marker in that stanza, but Kevin Zurek was thrown out at home.
On that latter play, Gerny felt his player had been the victim of obstruction after Zurek stole third. When a throw was wide of the base, Zurek tried to advance, but his progress was initially slowed by Lincoln-Way North’s third baseman.
“I went to the dugout and said to our pitching coach, Nick Chigas, ‘This is probably going to come back and bite us,’” Gerny said. “And sure enough it did. If there’s a [strange] way to lose a game, we’re going to find it.”
Both Quillin and reliever Ray Walker pitched well for the Spartans in a losing cause. Gerny was especially pleased with Walker’s work.
“Facing top competition, he was throwing strikes and making big pitches,” Gerny said. “I think he did extremely well considering the circumstances.”
Maine South 4
Oak Lawn 3
Twelve innings were required to declare a winner on Thursday, and it was the Hawks reigning superior after overcoming a 3-0 deficit that the Spartans had created through 4 ½ innings.
“We’re racking up the innings, which is good because we’re getting our pitchers a lot of work,” Gerny said. “Both Maine South and Lincoln-Way North were more polished. Their hitters were making contact and putting pressure on our defense to make plays, but it’s great that we’re playing teams that are forcing us to play almost perfect to beat them.”
Oak Lawn (1-6) constructed its lead by tallying twice in the second stanza and once in the third. Delivering the RBI were Roberts, Witkowski and Mitch Swatek, all of them doing so with singles.
The Spartans enjoyed their finest offensive day of the young season as they banged out 12 hits, half of which were evenly split between Swatek and Dunne. Melnik added two hits, including a double that narrowly missed being a homer in the 11th.
“The ball hit off the fence and he was already at second by the time it got there,” Gerny said. “He was really motoring and I signaled for him to come to third, but he was thrown out. It had to be a perfect relay to get him and, of course, it was a perfect throw.”
Swatek absorbed the loss, even though he was highly effective throughout his six-plus innings of relief. He whiffed eight during that span and allowed only four hits.
Brother Rice 5
Oak Lawn 1
With available arms dwindling, Gerny called on freshman Chad Cwik to oppose the Crusaders on Sunday. Cwik responded by holding Brother Rice to one earned run over 3 2/3 frames.
“I was excited for him,” Gerny said. “He kept his composure and didn’t lose his cool. For a freshman to come into that situation was good.
“I told our freshman coaches he probably won’t be back down. He gives us another option [on the hill].”
All would have been good for the Spartans if they had been able to solve Crusaders hurler Ian McGinnis, but they “didn’t have the hitting to keep up with [Rice].” Oak Lawn managed only four hits off McGinnis, one of which was Zurek’s RBI single in the opening stanza.
While Crusaders standout Kevin Biondic didn’t inflict harm upon the Spartans, others did. Erich Lieser (two hits), Colin Shea (two-run double), Andrew Dyke (RBI single) and Mike Massey (RBI single) were Rice’s headliners, and the Crusaders also benefited from 10 walks and seven stolen bases. Lieser was responsible for three of the thefts.
“Right now, teams can afford to do it to us because we’re struggling, but we can’t give these good teams extra outs,” Gerny said. “This is a tough 1-6 to look at. You never know how the kids will look at it, but we’ve got to stay intense.”
The Spartans began defense of their South Suburban Conference Red championship this past Monday versus cross-town neighbor Richards. They were to meet again on Tuesday.
Joliet Catholic Academy 4
Brother Rice 0
The Crusaders’ offense was relatively quiet earlier in the week, although it did muster up enough potency to defeat Evergreen Park 4-1 on Monday. However, sandwiched between Rice’s wins over the Mustangs and Oak Lawn were low-scoring setbacks against Joliet Catholic Academy and Morgan Park.
Four errors proved costly to the Crusaders (8-3) versus the Hilltoppers, whose four runs were all unearned. That pinned a hard-luck loss on Rice pitcher Mike Enriquez, whose only serious trouble came in the fourth inning when JCA plated three of its runs.
The Crusaders’ base hits numbered just two: doubles by Joe Crowley and Kyle Hilliard in the second and fifth frames, respectively.
Morgan Park 3
Brother Rice 1
The Crusaders were limited to four hits on Saturday by Mustangs hurler Elijah McKinnis, who went the distance at the US Steel Yard in Gary, Ind. McKinnis did yield seven free passes, but he also fanned six and aided his pitching effort with a two-run double as a batter in the fourth.
Dyke’s triple and Brian Musielak’s sacrifice fly during its next at-bat got one of those runs back for Rice, but it was unable to make further inroads. Musielak took the pitching defeat despite striking out seven and walking only one.
Sandburg 000 132 1 — 7
Oak Lawn 000 000 0 — 0
Sandburg 3B: Landgraf. RBI: Landgraf 2. WP: Dietz (1-0).
Oak Lawn LP: M. Swatek (0-1).
Oak Lawn 001 130 23 — 10
Morton 200 101 30 — 7
Oak Lawn 2B: Dodaro, Swatek. RBI: Dunne 2, Melnik 2, Quillin 2, M. Swatek 2, Dodaro. WP: Dunne (1-1).
Oak Lawn 010 030 00 — 4
Lincoln-Way North 010 200 11 — 5
Oak Lawn RBI: Roberts, J. Swatek, Witkowski. LP: Walker (0-1).
Oak Lawn 021 000 000 000 — 3
Maine South 000 011 100 001 — 4
Oak Lawn 2B: Dunne, Melnik, M. Swatek. RBI: Roberts, M. Swatek, Witkowski. LP: M. Swatek (0-2).
Oak Lawn 100 000 0 — 1
Brother Rice 010 112 x — 5
Oak Lawn RBI: Zurek. LP: Cwik (0-1).
Brother Rice 2B: Shea. RBI: Shea 2, Dyke, Gonzalez, Massey. WP: McGinnis (2-1).
JCA 000 310 0 — 4
Brother Rice 000 000 0 — 0
Brother Rice 2B: Crowley, Hilliard. LP: Enriquez (1-1).
Morgan Park 000 210 0 — 3
Brother Rice 000 100 0 — 1
Brother Rice 3B: Dyke. RBI: Musielak. LP: Musielak (1-1).