Knights play past regulation three times
Working overtime benefited Chicago Christian only a little last week.
Three times in four outings the Knights were required to play foes beyond the seventh inning so a winner could be declared — and in one of those instances, the result was actually indecisive as Christian handed coach Eric Brauer the second tie of his career. The Knights fought host Manteno to a 3-3 draw on Thursday through eight stanzas before darkness intervened.
Since the contest was a nonconference one and would require a lengthy return trip to complete, Brauer is calling it a deadlock. And that proved a favorable outcome in comparison to last Monday’s Suburban Christian Conference Gold duel with Aurora Central Catholic.
The Chargers, who are chasing Chicago Christian in the divisional standings, unleashed a pair of Division I recruits on Knights batters. The two pitchers shut Christian out after the first inning, although the Knights still had a few chances to break through.
“It was never with nobody out, but we threatened in probably five innings, where we had somebody in scoring position — sometimes two people,” Brauer said. “We just couldn’t come up with a key hit.”
Thanks mostly to Christian Bolhuis, neither did Aurora for nine innings. Chicago Christian’s ace handled the mound chores through the first seven of those and was nicked for just one unearned run. He fanned nine, walked no one and allowed only two hits.
“He has been pretty good all year,” Brauer said of Bolhuis. “His ERA’s under one, and he was in line to win his third conference 1-0 game in a row if we make one more play behind him.”
The Chargers finally broke the tie in the bottom of the 10th, using a pair of walks and a two-out single to collect a hard-fought 2-1 victory. Aurora’s winning rally came two innings after it had squandered a bases-loaded, no-out opportunity.
A strikeout and Sean O’Meara’s running catch in the outfield short-circuited the would-be uprising. The latter’s effort ultimately became a double play.
Brauer said one of the reasons he loves coaching baseball as opposed to some other sport is that “you rarely have to sit on anything. Forty-eight hours is about the longest you’ll [typically] go between games.”
That's why he was glad to have the Knights host a rematch with the Chargers on Tuesday. And just to make certain his guys were equally enthused, he reminded them of a couple important points.
“We saw their No. 1 and No. 2 guys on Monday because they couldn’t afford to lose that game, so we were going to see at least their No. 3 pitcher and we should be able to get some hits off him,” Brauer said. “And we were still in the driver’s seat [in the divisional race] as long as we won, so the focus was definitely on Tuesday and not on Monday.”
And Christian (16-10-1, 7-5) lived up to Brauer’s words. Dan Vos and Adam Schoenle joined forces on the hill to limit Aurora to two hits while striking out seven between them, and the Knights did just enough scoring behind the duo to produce a 4-0 victory that kept them alone atop the SCC Gold
“The conference race is real tight, but we’ll take a split,” Brauer said. “It didn’t hurt us.”
Jack De Vries’ double and Max Kerfin’s sacrifice fly staked Christian to a 2-0 edge in the fourth, then Kerfin’s single and a wild pitch provided a couple insurance runs for the Knights two innings later. Christian finished with eight hits, one more than the Chargers managed over two days and 17 frames.
“We really held them down offensively,” Brauer said. “I think we’ve had 16 games where we’ve held teams to three runs or less. We’ve played a lot of close games and I think we’re very well prepared [for the postseason].”
The Knights close out the conference portion of their 2014 schedule with four games this week, including a pair of matchups with another of their closest pursuers, St. Edward. If it is able to eventually claim the league crown, Christian’s back-to-back conference championships would be a first in program history.
Chicago Christian 3
Three suicide squeezes were responsible for all of the Knights’ scoring on Thursday. Bolhuis and Pat McCarthy both laid down bunts in the fifth inning, while Mike Santarelli came through in the sixth.
“We had a tough time scoring all week, and we were in a squeeze situation and had good bunters up there,” Brauer said in explanation of the unusual strategy. “We rolled the dice all three times and it worked out. That does not happen very often.”
Neither does having a pitching-by-committee approach work so well. Manteno did accrue nine hits, but Brauer was pleased that five different hurlers were able to keep a team batting .340 for the season fairly well in check.
“We were planning on using at least four pitchers, or more,” Brauer said. “We didn’t want to push anyone beyond three innings or have them face more than nine batters, so none of their batters got to hit twice against the same pitcher.”
Chicago Christian 7
Illiana Christian 5
The Knights’ longtime rival will be shifting their school site to Indiana within the next few years, but until that happens the two teams will resume the sharing of a conference home this fall.
But right now, the Vikings represent a nonconference clash for Chicago Christian, which means neither Brauer nor his athletes wanted to read too much into Saturday’s extra-inning success.
“It’s great to get a win, but I’d rather beat St. Ed’s twice on Monday and Tuesday than beat Illiana,” Brauer said. “A conference championship is our focus.”
And as for the rivalry itself, it’s on the back burner, at least during baseball season.
“It’s really been that way in baseball for a few years because it’s always a Saturday game,” Brauer said. “As such, neither team is going to expend a lot of pitching, so it’s kind of more high-scoring [between us] of late. Last year, we 10-runned them.”
The Knights weren’t quite as dominant this time around, but they were still good enough to get the job done. Ron Clark was the ringleader of Chicago Christian’s 10-hit attack as he went 4-for-5 with two doubles, three RBI and three runs scored. De Vries and Trevor Wolterink chipped in two RBI apiece.
“It was a good offensive day for us,” Brauer said. “That was the most hits we’ve had in a couple of weeks.”
The Knights trailed 5-4 after five innings, but Clark’s RBI double pulled them even in the top of the sixth. He and De Vries each drove in a run with an eighth-inning single to make a winner of Schoenle, who pitched the final 3 2/3 innings as the last of three Chicago Christian hurlers.
Chicago Christian 100 000 000 0 — 1
Aurora Central Catholic 100 000 000 1 — 2
Chicago Christian 2B: Novak. LP: Novak (2-3).
Aurora Central Catholic 000 000 0 — 0
Chicago Christian 000 202 x — 4
Chicago Christian 2B: De Vries, Novak. RBI: Kerfin 2, De Vries. WP: Schoenle (2-1).
Chicago Christian 000 021 00 — 3
Manteno 201 000 00 — 3
Chicago Christian RBI: Bolhuis, McCarthy, Santarelli.
Chicago Christian 200 201 02 — 7
Illiana Christian 200 030 00 — 5
Chicago Christian 2B: Clark 2. RBI: Clark 3, De Vries 2, Wolterink 2. WP: Schoenle (3-1).