Knights remain unbeaten at college site
Chicago Christian ballplayers will go their separate ways after graduating high school, off to whichever colleges best fit their personal scholastic needs.
For those individuals who plan on staying involved with baseball at the next level, Valparaiso University might be a popular choice.
For sure, the Knights have enjoyed nothing but good luck on their annual pilgrimage to the Indiana school, a trip Christian coach Eric Brauer has arranged in each of his six seasons at the helm. That wasn’t the start of Brauer’s return to his collegiate alma mater, however — he also took his Michigan City Marquette team there on three occasions.
But while Marquette didn’t fare so well, the Knights certainly have. On Saturday, they racked up their sixth and seventh wins in a row at Valpo by capturing both ends of a doubleheader against Beecher.
“Beecher won our [Class 2A] sectional last year, so they’re a quality team,” Brauer said after Christian scored 7-5 and 10-5 triumphs over the Bobcats.
As for his own squad, Brauer isn’t quite sure what magic exists for it at VU. He just knows that he’s giving his athletes a chance to do something he was never able to do as a high school player.
“It’s nice to get on a college field,” Brauer said. “It’s a neat experience and I think our guys treat it well. In a long 35-game season, it’s fun looking for things to spice it up and keep it fresh.
“I wasn’t even aware we hadn’t lost out there. I knew we had played well, and we had nice weather days the last couple years.”
The Knights, playing as the road team in Game 1, built a 7-2 lead and then held off a Bobcats rally in the bottom of the seventh. In the second contest, Christian used a nine-run outburst in the bottom of the fifth to erase Beecher’s 2-1 edge and cruise in triumphantly.
Sean O’Meara, who had gone 3-for-4 with three extra-base hits a year ago at Valpo, was every bit as comfortable this time around as he went a combined 5-for-8 in the doubleheader. His output included a first-game homer on what Brauer described as “an enormous field.”
Other contributors included Jack De Vries (two-run double in Game 1; three hits, two RBI in Game 2), Zach Frieling (three-run double in Game 2), Trevor Wolterink (two RBI on the day), Ron Clark (single, two RBI in Game 2), Mike Santarelli (RBI single in Game 2) and Max Kerfin (sacrifice fly in Game 1). Christian ended the day with a total of 17 hits.
“If you play out there on a Saturday, it tends to be more high scoring,” Brauer said. “You’re seeing their No. 3 or 4 [pitcher] and they’re seeing yours.”
Wolterink and Adam Schoenle were the winning hurlers for the Knights, both in relief.
Chicago Christian 5-1
Guerin Prep 0-0
Brauer called the Gators “definitely an improved team,” but that didn’t help them in their head-to-head matchups with the Knights last week. Instead, Christian rode strong pitching to shutout wins on both Monday and Tuesday.
The Knights have outscored two Suburban Christian Conference opponents by a 31-0 margin over four games played on Mondays and Tuesdays this spring.
Christian (12-7, 4-2) wasted no time in establishing itself against Guerin Prep on Monday as it tallied three times in its initial at-bat. The Knights totaled four hits, with Santarelli (double), O’Meara and Josh Novak each driving in a run with his.
“That was our calling card last year — I want to say that about 22 of our 30 wins came with us in the lead [early],” Brauer said. “We’d get ahead and space it out. We’ve been a way better come-from-behind team this year, not that we want to be but that’s just how it is.”
Santarelli’s two-run single in the sixth extended the Knights’ advantage and Schoenle preserved the whitewash — not to mention starter Dan Vos’ victory — by escaping unscathed from a bases-loaded dilemma in the seventh.
Christian Bolhuis was dominant in Tuesday’s game, and Chicago Christian needed every bit of his 14-strikeout, two-hit display to fend off the Gators, who received an equally sharp exhibition from their pitcher. Novak broke up a scoreless duel in the sixth by singling in Santarelli, who had been hit by a pitch and bunted into scoring position.
Bolhuis, who improved his season ledger to 4-2 and won for the 19th time as a varsity pitcher, became the first hurler Brauer ever allowed to exceed 105 pitches. He did so, in part, because Bolhuis had gone nine days between mound stints and, thus, was well rested.
“He’s one of the hardest workers on our team and he’s in good shape,” Brauer said. “They weren’t touching him, so I couldn’t see taking the ball out of his hand.”
Wheaton Academy 7
Chicago Christian 5
After watching his club win its first 1-0 game in quite a while, Brauer had to sit through a far less satisfying exhibition two days later. The Warriors struck for four first-inning runs and never wavered as they handed the Knights their second consecutive Thursday loss.
“They only played one game [last week] before us, so we saw their No. 2 [pitcher] instead of their No. 3,” Brauer said of Wheaton. “But we did not hit the ball very well all week until the fifth inning of the second game [on Saturday], when we had three doubles and four singles.”
Novak socked a homer and also had an RBI single for Christian, but its attack was somewhat sporadic beyond him and Bolhuis (two hits, including an RBI double). The Knights’ other runs were collected on sacrifice flies by Clark and Frieling.
While the setback didn’t result in Christian losing its hold on first place in the SCC Gold, it did seem to portend a down-to-the-wire battle for divisional supremacy.
“I’d be shocked if somebody in our division won more than 11 or 12 games,” said Brauer, whose squad piled up 14 victories last spring. “The next six games are all against conference teams, so they’re going to be big. We’ll be prepared, but I think it’s going to be a tight, competitive race.
“All things considered, we’re not too bad off. We’re making slow progress, but we need to be making faster progress because we’re 19 games in [to the schedule].”
As for what improvements the Knights must make, Brauer didn’t point to anything large.
“It’s all little things, [like] not being really sharp on our focus [at all times],” he said. “That’s the frustrating thing. Little mistakes in big ballgames can make a difference.”
Guerin Prep 000 000 0 — 0
Chicago Christian 300 002 x — 5
Chicago Christian 2B: Santarelli. RBI: Santarelli 3, Novak, O’Meara. WP: D. Vos (3-2).
Chicago Christian 000 001 0 — 1
Guerin Prep 000 000 0 — 0
Chicago Christian 3B: De Vries. RBI: Novak. WP: Bolhuis (4-2).
Wheaton Academy 410 011 0 – 7
Chicago Christian 001 102 1 – 5
Chicago Christian 2B: Bolhuis. HR: Novak. RBI: Novak 2, Bolhuis, Clark, Frieling. LP: Novak (2-2).
Chicago Christian 000 211 3 — 7
Beecher 001 100 3 — 5
Chicago Christian 2B: De Vries. HR: O’Meara. RBI: De Vries 2, Kerfin, O’Meara, Wolterink. WP: Schoenle (1-0).
Beecher 201 101 0 — 5
Chicago Christian 000 190 x — 10
Chicago Christian 2B: Frieling. RBI: Frieling 3, Clark 2, De Vries 2, Santarelli, Wolterink. WP: Wolterink (2-0).