Knights increase divisional lead with wins
Winning a tight contest enabled Chicago Christian to tighten its grip on the Suburban Christian Conference Gold lead.
And then the Knights dealt Immaculate Conception an even bigger blow, both literally and figuratively, in the second game of a divisional doubleheader last Tuesday at Standard Bank Stadium in Crestwood. After suffering a heartbreaking 1-0 defeat in the opener, IC basically fell apart in Game 2.
Five Chicago Christian runs in the bottom of the second gave it an edge it would never relinquish. IC did close to within 6-3 after scoring twice in the top of the fourth, but the Knights responded right away with their own deuce to maintain a comfortable advantage.
From there, Christian rolled in with a 14-4 slaughter-rule victory that gave it a three-game lead over IC in the standings. Aurora Central Catholic, which squared off twice with the Knights earlier this week, ended last week two behind in the loss column, as did St. Edward.
While success against Aurora would obviously put Christian in a very favorable position to repeat as SCC Gold kingpin, coach Eric Brauer refused to look too far ahead.
“There’s way too much time to go,” he said. “I expect us to be in a battle all the way to the end [of the regular season]. We’ve got some good teams, but no one in our division is really, really strong.”
As evidence, Brauer pointed to his own club, which has won six straight matchups with divisional foes, but gone 0-4 in SCC crossovers. That ledger included setbacks versus Montini and Marian Central Catholic last Friday and Saturday, respectively.
A year ago, the Knights (14-9, 6-4) went 5-1 in their crossover encounters.
“Our pitching and defense have definitely come a long way, and we’re pretty pleased with both,” Brauer said. “Our team ERA is 2.51, and in the 13 games since our Florida trip, we’ve given up seven unearned runs; we gave up 23 in our first 10. We’re just not scoring enough runs [right now].”
Luckily for Christian, one was enough to net a win in Game 1 on Tuesday. The Knights tallied it on Sean O’Meara’s fifth-inning single, one of just five hits they managed off IC’s ace.
Making sure Chicago Christian required no more than that to prosper was Christian Bolhuis, who fired a one-hitter and fanned 11 while going the distance on the hill. For the season, the junior has piled up 56 strikeouts in only 31 2/3 innings.
“It was just a pitchers’ duel and a great battle,” Brauer said. “Christian got the first guy out in all seven innings, which was big.
“We’re still young and inexperienced —I [might] have seven new people on the field at any given time — but I know when Christian pitches we are a very confident team. His experience definitely prepared him for that [type of game].”
Brauer wasn’t surprised, however, that the Knights faced a difficult test.
“They’re much improved from years before,” he said of IC. “And [with them] having just beaten Aurora Central Catholic twice, we knew they were going to be a worthy opponent. We were lucky to get that first one.”
Brauer didn’t want to venture a guess as to whether or not IC players were demoralized after Game 1, but they certainly could not have been feeling good about staring at a 5-0 deficit in the second contest following Christian’s second at-bat.
O’Meara (two-run double), Ron Clark (double), Max Kerfin and Josh Novak all smacked RBI hits in the frame, and a couple of those guys were also key figures during a six-run uprising in the sixth that created a game-ending 10-run differential between the teams. Along with Kerfin (double) and Clark (sacrifice fly), the Knights’ later fireworks featured input from Zach Frieling, Jack De Vries and Mike Santarelli, each of whom knocked in one run without benefit of a base hit.
Freshman Dan Vos logged the pitching victory by tossing the first five stanzas on a yield of five hits. He whiffed 10 and walked three. For the season to date, Vos and Bolhuis have combined to surrender just 14 earned runs over 70 innings.
Chicago Christian 2
A leadoff triple in the sixth led to the deciding run for the Broncos, who squeezed out a low-scoring triumph over the Knights on Thursday.
Kerfin’s two hits amounted to Christian’s total for the day. One of those safeties drove in a run. De Vries tallied both of the Knights’ markers, one of them on the front end of a double steal.
Adam Schoenle performed well for Christian in his initial starting assignment as he pitched into the sixth inning. Montini notched nine hits off him, but the majority of them were scattered.
Marian Central 3
Chicago Christian 1
The Hurricanes became the 14th squad held to three runs or less by the Knights this spring, but that didn’t prevent Marian Central from securing an SCC crossover win on Saturday in Woodstock.
Again, Christian’s bats were quiet as they produced only four hits. One of them was Novak’s double that opened the seventh inning, but the Knights made no headway after that. Their lone run came on Tyler Edgar’s single in the sixth, which briefly gave the visitors a 1-0 edge.
Interestingly, this game was the 18th Christian had played either on the road or at a neutral site. It has competed only five times in Palos Heights thus far, a place that was extremely good to the Knights in 2013, when they went 18-3 at home.
“We’ve gotten a good experience [from that] and, hopefully, that’s preparing us for the playoffs,” Brauer said of his club’s frequent road tours.
“In the past, if we’d be sitting at 14-9 with a veteran group, I’d be disappointed. But we’re still learning and we’re just trying to get as good as we can be as quickly as we can.”
Chicago Christian 000 010 0 — 1
Immaculate Conception 000 000 0 — 0
Chicago Christian 2B: McCarthy. RBI: O’Meara. WP: Bolhuis (5-2).
Immaculate Conception 001 201 — 4
Chicago Christian 051 206 — 14
Chicago Christian 2B: Clark, Kerfin, O’Meara, Wolterink. RBI: Frieling 3, Clark 2, Kerfin 2, O’Meara 2, De Vries, Novak, Santarelli. WP: D. Vos (4-2).
Chicago Christian 010 100 0 — 2
Montini 020 001 x — 3
Chicago Christian RBI: Kerfin. LP: Schoenle (1-1).
Chicago Christian 000 010 0 — 1
Marian Central 000 030 x —3
Chicago Christian 2B: Novak. RBI: Edgar. LP: D. Vos (4-3).