Knights’ bats lead to three-win week
There was nothing passive about this Christian group.
On the baseball diamond, Chicago Christian baseball players were very much the aggressors last week, at least in three of the team’s four outings. All three of those contests featured the Knights amassing a double-digit number of runs and securing easy victories, starting with a Monday demolition of Walther Christian Academy.
That 10-0 triumph over the Broncos in five innings enabled Chicago Christian to begin its Suburban Christian Conference schedule on a definite high note. And things only got worse for Walther the next day, as it was on the receiving end of a 15-0 beating on its home field in another matchup that ended after just five frames.
“We’ve played 11 games against them in our six years here, and this was the first time we ever 10-runned them,” Knights coach Eric Brauer said. “Three times [previously] we went into extra innings with them. Last year, we were lucky to beat them at their place.
“Walther’s usually really, really competitive. They just don’t have real strong pitching, like they’ve had in the past, and we took advantage. We scored a bunch of runs, which makes winning ballgames a lot easier.”
A similar fate befell Argo in a nonconference encounter on Saturday. A six-run second inning gave Christian a big boost, and it went on to register a 14-2 slaughter-rule victory over the Argonauts.
The only blemish on the Knights’ ledger was a 4-2 SCC setback against Wheaton-St. Francis, but even with that Thursday defeat factored in, Christian (8-6, 2-1) rebounded nicely from a winless trip to Florida the week before.
“That 0-4 [record in Florida] didn’t derail our season or our confidence,” Brauer said. “But it showed us we had a lot of work to do and improvements to make.”
The Knights did so pretty much in all areas. Their defense, which had been guilty of 12 errors in the first two Florida games before righting itself, continued to display steadiness and Christian unquestionably wielded some big sticks last week.
The Knights put Monday’s contest away by erupting for six runs in the fourth inning, a rally that took place after two outs had been registered by Walther. Key individuals for Christian on the day were Mike Santarelli (two hits, three RBI, one run), Sean O’Meara (two hits, including a double, one RBI), Max Kerfin (two-run single), Josh Novak (RBI single) and Zach Frieling (RBI).
“We had some really good timely hitting on Monday,” said Brauer, whose club augmented its eight safeties with four walks and four hit batsmen. “We did a good job of working counts.”
And, in Brauer’s opinion, the manner in which his team constructed its double-digit edge in the fourth was also significant.
“[With two outs], at any point [on defense], you’re one pitch away from getting out of the inning,” he said. “But that one pitch becomes 30 in some cases and a team gets frustrated.”
The Knights really didn’t require such a robust offensive showing, seeing as how their own pitcher, Christian Bolhuis, was unyielding. The Broncos were held hitless and struck out nine times versus the junior, who had suffered two tough losses in Florida, one of them in relief.
“He has 31 strikeouts in 18 innings and a 1.58 earned-run average,” Brauer said of Bolhuis. “He’s throwing the ball pretty well this year.”
Tuesday was a virtual carbon copy of Monday’s matchup, right down to the Knights’ producing of a six-run rally. In this instance, it was their initial plate appearance where gold was struck, and again most of the damage was inflicted after two batters had been retired.
“That was real big for us,” Brauer of the early explosion. “It could have just been a 1-0 game. You get out of the first inning with one run [allowed] and a lot of baserunners [stranded], it’s a victory of sorts [for the defense]; when that one run turns into six, it turns into a long inning.”
And, ultimately, it became another long afternoon for Walther. The Broncos were basically unsuccessful against a quartet of Christian hurlers, including Novak, who gave up one hit over two-plus stanzas and fanned four.
Spearheading the Knights’ 12-hit attack were Frieling, Bolhuis, Jack De Vries and Trevor Wolterink, all of whom hit safely twice. De Vries included a double among his hits, and he, Bolhuis and Wolterink combined to drive in seven runs.
Also lending a hand were Adam Schoenle (two-run double), Kerfin (two RBI), Novak (two-run single) and O’Meara (RBI single).
Chicago Christian 14
Frieling enjoyed a career day on Saturday as he socked a grand slam, belted two doubles and finished the game with six RBI. He scored three times.
His slam was part of a six-run outburst in the second inning that put the Knights on another path to success. Christian tallied in each of its other three at-bats as well, including five times in the fourth.
Santarelli (three RBI), De Vries (two runs, one RBI) and Wolterink (two runs) also supplied multiple hits for the winners. Other RBI men were Novak (single), Tyler Edgar (single) and O’Meara (sacrifice fly).
“That was probably the best we’ve swung the bats so far,” said Brauer, whose club totaled 13 hits and had 18 baserunners.
Novak pocketed his second pitching victory of the week by stopping the Argonuats on three hits through 3 2/3 innings while whiffing seven. Chris Lyle and De Vries also saw some work on the hill.
Wheaton-St. Francis 4
Chicago Christian 2
The Knights’ lone stumble occurred on Thursday, when they managed only four hits and fell short against the Spartans, who plated all of their runs in the fourth inning.
Christian trailed 4-0 at that juncture, but Wolterink’s RBI double and Bolhuis run-scoring single brought the locals closer. The Knights then filled the sacks in the final frame before Wheaton-St. Francis notched a game-ending strikeout.
While it’d be easy to cite that late failure to capitalize as the pivotal point of the contest, Brauer instead looked at Christian’s performance as a whole and found it somewhat lacking.
“We didn’t piece together enough good at-bats,” he said. “We had several flyouts, and I might hate those more than strikeouts. A fly ball is pretty much a big waste of time for us, and we had six or seven lazy fly balls.”
Also not doing the Knights any favors was their defense. While not specifically error-prone, Christian fielders got burned by a few mental lapses that sparked the Spartans’ scoring inning — a couple of those let a Wheaton-St. Francis player race home right after he had stolen second base.
“It was not a very clean game for us anywhere in the field,” Brauer said. “We’ve conditionally been a very strong pitching and defensive team — that’s the way I believe you can compete in every game. But we had five new infielders [including our catcher] out there with a freshman pitcher.
“We are very, very young and learning on the fly. We’ve definitely cost ourselves a few games on defense, but I think we’re showing improvement.”
Dan Vos absorbed the defeat on the mound for the Knights, who had four more games on tap this week, three of them SCC affairs. On Saturday, Christian will make its annual journey to Valparaiso (Ind.) University, where it will meet Beecher.
Walther Christian 000 00 — 0
Chicago Christian 130 6x — 10
Chicago Christian 2B: O’Meara. RBI: Santarelli 3, Kerfin 2, O’Meara 2, Frieling, Novak. WP: Bolhuis (3-2).
Chicago Christian 15
Walther Christian 0
Chicago Christian 2B: De Vries, Frieling, Schoenle. RBI: De Vries 3, Bolhuis 2, Kerfin 2, Novak 2, Schoenle 2, Wolterink 2, O’Meara. WP: Novak (1-1).
Chicago Christian 000 011 0 — 2
Wheaton-St. Francis 000 400 x — 4
Chicago Christian 2B: Wolterink. RBI: Bolhuis, Wolterink. LP: D. Vos (2-1).
Argo 010 10 — 2
Chicago Christian 162 5x — 14
Chicago Christian 2B: Frieling 2. HR: Frieling. RBI: Frieling 6, Santarelli 3, De Vries, Edgar, Novak, O’Meara. WP: Novak (2-1).