Astros pay back Rams for 2013 disappointment
What a difference a year makes.
When Shepard last visited Burbank for a baseball game against Reavis, it left with tail tucked firmly between legs. That’s what happens when a huge lead is squandered and, instead of a victory, the would-be winner gets tagged with a gut-wrenching defeat.
While forgetting that recent bit of the past would probably be in the Astros’ best interests, current players made no attempt to run from it while making a return trip to 77th and Austin.
“They all knew about it,” Shepard coach Frank DiFoggio said of last season’s 15-14 setback. “They talked about it on the bus, but they were more joking about it than anything else.”
In some ways, DiFoggio wasn’t shocked at the Astros’ collapse in their 2013 road encounter with the Rams.
“It’s the little shop of horrors over there,” he said with a chuckle. “It’s always tough for us to play there. It always seems like it’s cold, it’s damp and it’s dark there when we play.
“But when we got there on Tuesday, the sun was shining. It was the total opposite of what it usually is, and so was the game.”
For a while, that didn’t appear to be the case. Although it drew five walks through the first five innings, Shepard could not combine those with any hits.
Amazingly, that didn’t prevent the Astros from scoring once. They did so in the first on a wild pitch, which came on the heels of a Reavis error and hit batsman.
And because junior pitcher Brett Smith was in fine form, Shepard didn’t need any more than that to prosper. Smith ended the day with a five-hitter and five strikeouts while walking just two.
For good measure, the Astros did give him some breathing room in the late going as Kevin Carmody stroked a two-run single in the sixth and Mark Albrecht singled in one more teammate in the seventh. That added up to a 4-0 triumph for Shepard and handed it a sweep over the Rams.
The Astros beat Reavis 3-2 in eight innings last Monday. Interestingly, Shepard won the two South Suburban Conference Red games despite being held to a total of eight hits in 15 innings.
“We got pretty lucky,” DiFoggio said. “They’re not off to a very good start, but they’re not a 2-9 team. Reavis is going to beat teams [later on].”
As for Shepard, it concluded the week at 3-2 overall, but DiFoggio termed his squad as consistent as the weather. Consider the following — after beating the Rams twice, the Astros fell short of TF North and Joliet Central, two teams that have been struggling, on Thursday and Saturday, respectively. In between, they downed a good Riverside-Brookfield club.
“It’s been odd,” DiFoggio said. “But after nine games, I think I’ve got a pulse on what we need to be successful [on an ongoing basis].”
That doesn’t mean he hasn’t been caught off-guard. The defense DiFoggio tabbed as a probable strength, for example, “is really hurting us right now. We’re kicking it around at inopportune times.”
Coupled with Shepard’s general lack of offensive punch, any shortcomings in the field would seem devastating. However, one thing has saved the Astros thus far: a pitching staff that, despite its youth, has allowed fewer than 20 runs and is holding opposing hitters to a meager .170 average.
Before Smith did his number on Reavis, Adam Gregory and Eric Horbach kept the Rams’ sticks in check. But thanks to a few free baserunners, Reavis made maximum use of second- and fifth-inning singles to grab a 2-1 lead over Shepard on Monday in Palos Heights.
The Astros, who’d capitalized on a Rams miscue to tally once in the first frame, pulled even in the sixth on Brendan Hermann’s sacrifice fly. A walk to Albrecht and Kevin Knoerzer’s single preceded Hermann’s at-bat.
Then in the eighth, Hermann lofted another sacrifice fly, this one a game-winner, as it chased in Sam Hermanas, who had walked to open the inning.
“We just took care of them and, really, I was surprised,” DiFoggio said. “We executed in this one. We took advantage of balls in the dirt and Brendan Hermann did a great job of just getting the runners in.”
TF North 7
Understandably, the Astros were riding high when they tangled with the Meteors in an SSC crossover contest on Thursday. After seven innings were played, Shepard had reached its lowest point.
“I still can’t believe we lost that game,” DiFoggio said.
The Astros (5-4, 3-1) did so after seemingly stealing TF North’s thunder. The Meteors snapped a scoreless tie by scoring five runs in the top of the sixth, all after two outs had been recorded. A fielding error, two errant throws and a wild pitch contributed to the visitors’ uprising.
But Shepard retaliated with six runs, an explosion capped by Hermanas’ two-RBI single. Albrecht (single), Bobby Peterka (single) and Jake Hart (sacrifice fly) each drove in one run.
The barrage was in stark contrast to the Astros’ earlier efforts. While they were “hitting balls harder than in the two games against Reavis, we only had one hit to show for it [through five innings].” That was the same amount as the Meteors mustered off Hermann, who fanned seven, over that span.
However, another Shepard miscue enabled TF North to climb back in front in the seventh, and the Astros failed to counter after loading the bags in their final plate appearance.
“It was a trap game and we got trapped,” DiFoggio said. “It was extremely disappointing because we didn’t fight through adversity.
“There are only certain things you can control — your decision-making, your effort, your emotions — but we let our emotions and our frustrations get to us. We let things get away from us.”
Hart took the loss in relief of Hermann.
The Astros picked up the pieces in a hurry, as they bounced back from Thursday’s loss to topple the Bulldogs, who couldn’t get a good handle on either of Shepard’s two pitchers, Kyle Longfield and Horbach.
Longfield, who had impressed DiFoggio during an earlier relief appearance versus De La Salle, threw the first five innings on a yield of five hits while fanning that same number of Riverside-Brookfield batters.
“Did he pitch fantastic,” DiFoggio said. “He just did a masterful job and really minimized their hitters.
“Last year, they swung the bats better than anybody I saw, and they had just about everybody back. But Will Concannon, who’s going to Middle Tennessee State, was the only hitter to have much success against him.”
Concannon belted two doubles for the Bulldogs, who tallied once in both the third and fifth innings. Through six stanzas, that was enough to ward off the Astros, whose only run resulted from Albrecht’s first-inning single.
Then in the seventh, Peterka made Horbach a somewhat unexpected victor in relief by smacking a two-RBI double. For his part, Horbach struck out one and surrendered one hit during a two-inning stint on the hill.
“It was a complete reversal from the day before,” DiFoggio said. “We didn’t wear things on our sleeve and we learned from our mistakes.
“I would have been pleased whether we won or lost just by the simple fact that our intensity was up. They really responded from the day before in terms of getting after it and we didn’t make any errors.”
Joliet Central 7
Again, though, any sense of satisfaction on the Astros’ part was short-lived, thanks to a failure to close out the Steelmen, who entered Saturday’s clash in search of their first win.
They got it, thanks largely to a four-run fifth inning that put them ahead to stay. Three free passes and a Shepard error figured in Joliet Central’s momentum-generating stanza.
“The effort was there, but it just didn’t work out for us,” DiFoggio said. “Anything that could go wrong did. It was just a bad day at the office. We tried to pitch over the mistakes, but we just couldn’t do anything to change it.”
The Astros were operating at far less than full strength. Three players were absent to take their ACTs, another was battling illness, and a couple other athletes were dealing with minor injuries.
“We only had 11 guys, so it was kind of an all-hands-on-deck situation for us just to be able to play,” DiFoggio said.
Shepard had 17 baserunners, eight of them reaching via hits and nine others getting aboard with either walks or by being hit with a pitch. The Astros also stole five bases.
“We did things to win the game,” DiFoggio said. “But we were giving them too many runs.”
Hermann (single), Knoerzer (single) and Hart (groundout) had RBI for Shepard, which was scheduled for only three games this week. Losing pitcher Gregory struck out nine and allowed just three hits over five innings.
Reavis 010 010 00 — 2
Shepard 100 001 01 — 3
Shepard 2B: Knoerzer. RBI: Hermann 2. WP: Horbach (1-0).
Shepard 100 002 1 — 4
Reavis 000 000 0 — 0
Shepard RBI: Carmody 2, Albrecht. WP: Smith (2-1).
TF North 000 005 2 — 7
Shepard 000 006 0 — 6
Shepard RBI: Hermanas 2, Albrecht, Hart, Peterka. LP: Hart (0-1).
Riverside-Brookfield 001 010 0 — 2
Shepard 100 000 2 — 3
Shepard 2B: Peterka. RBI: Peterka 2, Albrecht. WP: Horbach (2-0).
Shepard 001 201 1 — 5
Joliet Central 021 201 1 — 7
Shepard 3B: Peterka. RBI: Hart, Hermann, Knoerzer. LP: Gregory (1-1).