Smith’s one-hitter highlights Astros’ performances
His common surname belies an uncommon mound presence.
At least that’s been the case so far for Brett Smith. The Shepard junior was given a decent buildup prior to the 2014 baseball season — Astros coach Frank DiFoggio tabbed him as a potential eight-game winner if injury could be avoided — and Smith has validated that optimism.
He didn’t collect a win in his initial outing, but his seven-strikeout, one-hit effort versus Harlan did open some eyes. Smith continued operating in that same high gear last Wednesday, and this time his work was rewarded.
Like Harlan before it, Tinley managed to collect just one hit off Smith, and the Titans were set down on third strikes a total of nine times. Shepard wasn’t exactly tearing the cover off the ball, either, but Smith made sure that the run his team scored in the second inning was enough to produce a South Suburban Conference crossover victory.
Interestingly, Smith’s latest impressive exhibition almost never happened.
“He came to me in the second inning and told me he didn’t feel right,” DiFoggio said. “I asked him if he wanted to come out, but he said he’d keep going. My advice to him was to throw at 70 or 75 percent.
“He was pretty dominating, and that was him at about 75 percent.”
Smith appeared to get stronger as the game progressed. At the time of his conversation with DiFoggio, Smith had yet to register a strikeout. Tinley did pose a minor threat in the fifth inning after being helped along by a dropped third strike, but Smith exited from the tight spot one batter later.
The Astros (2-2, 1-0) tallied on Adam Gregory’s fielder’s choice, which chased in Jake Hart, who had singled earlier in the second stanza. Gregory beat a relay throw to first despite running on an ankle that had been injured in the first inning.
“He smelled that RBI,” DiFoggio said with a chuckle. “He busted it down there, bad ankle and all.”
As for Smith, his rapid ascent has been fueled by both natural ability and the player’s willingness to learn. Among those teaching Smith has been Shepard grad Mike Recchia, now a pitcher in the professional minor leagues.
“In the offseason, Brett was Mike Recchia’s throwing partner,” DiFoggio said. “Brett’s a sponge — if he can pick something up from somebody, he will. He would pick Mike’s brain, asking him, ‘What about this? What about that?’
“Mike still preaches a lot of things I was telling him to do, which makes me happy because it shows that what I’ve been teaching must work. I think that influenced Brett.”
While crisp pitching on both sides was the main ingredient in Wednesday’s encounter, it was a missing one when the Astros and Chargers met up last Tuesday. The teams’ combined 11 runs came on just eight hits, but both clubs benefited from a rash of free passes.
Shepard drew 10 walks in all, three of which were part of its five-run opening stanza. John Korbakes’ base-on-balls occurred while the sacks were jammed and resulted in one of the Astros’ markers. Eric Horbach’s bags-clearing double was the key hit, but Kevin Knoerzer’s double and Kevin Carmody’s sacrifice fly also figured in the action.
DiFoggio was pleased to see the fast getaway, particularly since Stagg has been a thorn in Shepard’s side far more often than not in recent years.
“They always seem to find a way to beat us — usually, they beat the [heck] out of us,” he said. “I thought it was going to happen again.”
That’s because the Chargers responded to the Astros’ initial explosion with one of their own. Stagg’s rally began with a leadoff homer by pitcher Peter Angelos — “He took his anger out on the ball,” DiFoggio joked — and continued with a few walks, a wild pitch and CJ Casey’s two-run double.
But instead of wilting in the face of a challenge, Shepard fought back. It collected another run on a passed ball in the second frame and scored once more on Mark Albrecht’s third-inning single.
From there, Gregory settled down on the mound, and he and Horbach joined forces to keep the Chargers’ sticks quiet the remainder of the way.
“It just wasn’t a good day [for us],” Stagg coach Matt O’Neill said. “We’ve been pretty successful [versus Shepard], but this was just a freak thing. It was tough to get in a rhythm [as a batter] because the pitchers didn’t give guys opportunities to get comfortable at the plate with all the walks.”
“We both get the grinder type of kid, so we’re going to win ballgames by throwing strikes, catching the ball and doing the little things right on offense,” DiFoggio said. “We definitely know the strike zone this year.
“It’s a neighborhood thing between us and Stagg, and it’s [almost] always highly competitive. It’s a good rivalry — of course, to be a rivalry, one team can’t win all the time.”
De La Salle 10
The only time the Astros didn’t win last week was on Monday, although there were still some positive signs of which DiFoggio took notice. Foremost among them was his team’s ability to claw its way back into contention after spotting the Meteors a 10-0 advantage by the top of the third inning.
“The kids could have just chalked it up and started thinking about the next game, but they chose to do the opposite,” DiFoggio said. “I was real proud of what they did and the fight that we had. We made it a ballgame.”
Relievers Kyle Longfield and Korbakes teamed up to put the brakes on De La Salle’s runaway attack. They held the Meteors without a hit over the last four innings, and Longfield, who threw three of those frames, also whiffed three batters.
“He has a lot of personality and enthusiasm,” DiFoggio said of the latter. “He’s real competitive and he does a good job of keeping guys up [emotionally].”
Bobby Peterka was the Astros’ clutch hitter as he stroked an RBI single in the third inning and a run-scoring double in the seventh. Korbakes (single) also had an RBI, while Shepard’s other runs came courtesy of a passed ball and De La Salle error.
The Astros squared off with Reavis on Monday and Tuesday of this week in both squads’ SSC Red openers.
Shepard’s Smith wasn’t the only notable pitcher of last week.
Also earning rave reviews was Nick Gerzon, who tossed a no-hitter at the Cardinals on Monday. Gerzon struck out seven and walked two, with both of those free passes being doled out in the fourth inning. Eisenhower did not have baserunners in any other stanza.
“It was a cold day, but he did a good job of challenging hitters from the get-go,” O’Neill said of Gerzon. “And we didn’t make any errors. Any time you do that in high school baseball, you’ve got a good chance to win.”
Stagg’s nine hits were somewhat scattered, but it “did just enough to get ahead.” A passed ball allowed the Chargers to garner their first run in their initial plate appearance, then they tallied twice more in both the second and sixth innings. Angelos (two-run double) and Nick Nowak (single) were Stagg’s RBI men.
Nowak finished with three hits and Brett Stratinsky smacked a couple for the Chargers.
Two runs in the fourth inning put the Indians ahead for the first time on Saturday, and they went on to claim a two-run victory over the Chargers, who, according to their coach, sabotaged themselves.
“It was a clean game [defensively] and, truthfully, even though we lost 3-1, that’s the best we’ve been offensively,” said O’Neill, whose club totaled eight hits. “But we’ve been in a spot where we’re making bad mistakes on the bases, and those baserunning mistakes get magnified.”
Stagg filled the bags twice in its final three at-bats, but had nothing to show for it. Drew Bolero’s single drove in the Chargers’ lone run in the second and Jake Wimmer, who scored on Bolero’s hit, went 3-for-4 on the day.
Casey pitched six innings for Stagg and, save for Mike Papierski’s solo homer in the fifth and a couple RBI hits by Lemont one inning before that, was effective. The Indians wound up with nine hits in all.
Included among the Chargers’ opponents this week are SouthWest Suburban Conference Red members Lincoln-Way North, Lincoln-Way West and Thornridge, who shared a divisional home with Stagg up until this season.
Tinley Park 000 000 0 — 0
Shepard 010 000 x — 1
Shepard RBI: Gregory. WP: Smith (1-1).
Shepard 511 000 0 — 7
Stagg 400 000 0 — 4
Shepard 2B: Horbach, Knoerzer. RBI: Horbach 3, Albrecht, Carmody, Korbakes. WP: Gregory (1-0).
Stagg 2B: Bolero, Casey. HR: Angelos. RBI: Casey 2, Angelos. LP: Angelos (0-1).
De La Salle 127 000 0 — 10
Shepard 002 011 1 — 7
Shepard 2B: Albrecht, Peterka. RBI: Peterka 2, Korbakes. LP: Hermann (0-1).
Stagg 120 002 0 — 5
Eisenhower 000 000 0 — 0
Stagg 2B: Angelos, Nowak, Stratinsky. RBI: Angelos 2, Nowak, Stratinsky. WP: Gerzon (1-0).
Lemont 000 210 0 — 3
Stagg 010 000 0 — 1
Stagg 2B: Angelos. RBI: Bolero. LP: Casey (0-2).