Tuesday is doomsday for Vikings
Season ends abruptly with pair of losses
After winning rather handily last Monday, the prospects for St. Laurence’s continued advancement in the Phil Lawler Classic state tournament were good.
On Tuesday, however, Prospect was better.
Having been victimized by the Vikings in that Monday encounter, the Knights gained revenge at a most opportune moment. By virtue of a 4-2 triumph over St. Laurence at Benedictine University in Lisle, Prospect not only extended its own tourney stay but abruptly halted the Vikings’.
The Lawler Classic is a double-elimination affair, but St. Laurence couldn’t afford another setback after having fallen short against Nazareth Academy — also by a 4-2 count — in an earlier Tuesday matchup. Thus, the Vikings concluded their summer campaign with a 15-4 mark.
Undefeated Joliet Catholic Academy ultimately reigned as state champion by winning four times, the clincher coming last Thursday when it beat Nazareth 3-1 for the title. The Hilltoppers slipped past Prospect 3-2 in the semifinal round.
St. Laurence was making its third state appearance since 2010 but has not claimed a championship since 1981. Nevertheless, coach Pete Lotus didn’t fault his latest group of athletes — many of whom were playing varsity ball for the first time — for not achieving their ultimate goal.
“I’m still proud of the guys and very, very happy with this summer,” he said. “Going through the experience of the playoffs, surviving the one-and-done regional, was definitely beneficial. These guys took another step [forward] and that should help us going into next spring.”
That being said, Lotus admitted a bit of frustration that the Vikings had let opportunity slip through their grasp.
“We just didn’t play our best baseball last week,” he said. “On Tuesday, both games were not as good as we’re capable of playing.
“I guess it’s good to know if we do eliminate those mistakes we could have won those two games. If we would have played our absolute best and lost, it would be hard because there’d be nothing else we could have done [to change the outcome].”
The game against Nazareth opened with each squad tallying once in its initial at-bat. Making the Roadrunners’ scoring possible was a St. Laurence fielding mishap, which became the first of several.
“We did some things that were pretty uncharacteristic for us,” Lotus said. “We made four errors, which gave them all their runs, and there were two more plays that weren’t errors but should have been made. And we didn’t hit in clutch situations.”
The Vikings, whose first marker was generated on a double steal following hits by Tommy Farrell and Anthony Chimera (bunt), scored again in the third on Sean Burnette’s sacrifice fly that chased home Farrell (walk). However, that was only a partial response to Nazareth’s noisemaking in the top of the inning, which consisted of a three-run outburst.
St. Laurence collected just four hits, but six walks and two hit batsmen gave it plenty of baserunners and, with that, scoring chances. The Vikings loaded the bases with one out in the third frame but had only the one run to show for it, and they came away empty under identical conditions two innings later. Two strikeouts quashed that threat.
St. Laurence, which also lined into a momentum-crushing double play in the sixth, finished the day with 10 strikeouts. Its overall lack of production made a loser of Frank Greco, who supplied a credible mound effort by limiting the Roadrunners to five hits over 6 2/3 stanzas and striking out five while allowing no earned runs.
“We didn’t help him a lot,” Lotus said of his senior-to-be hurler.
Three more errors haunted the Vikings in their rematch with Prospect, which took place shortly after the contest versus Nazareth had concluded. Only two of the Knights’ four runs were earned.
“I’m not sure what our mind-set was,” Lotus said. “[Losing to Nazareth] obviously wasn’t the end [for us], and even if we had won we would have played the next game right away. But we definitely would have liked to have played better.
“I’m not sure why [we didn’t], but after we played so well all summer it was frustrating.”
St. Laurence never led against Prospect, which plated a pair of runs in the first inning, matched the Vikings’ scoring in the third and tacked on a fourth run in the fifth frame. St. Laurence completed its output with a solo marker in the sixth.
Six hits and six free passes gave the Vikings a number of opportunities to break through to a greater degree, but three picked-off runners did St. Laurence no favors. It was unable to capitalize on a bases-loaded, one-out scenario in the fifth, and the Vikes also left the bags filled in another inning.
Farrell’s single and a Prospect miscue accounted for St. Laurence’s runs.
When the Vikings fell behind 4-0 in the opening stanza on Monday, it appeared as if their tournament stay would be brief. But unlike what was to occur on Tuesday, St. Laurence had the means to wipe out its early deficit.
It responded to Prospect’s two-out rally with one of its own in the bottom of the first. While Greco’s single only shaved the Vikings’ deficit in half, Lotus felt the tide had begun to shift.
“If they put up a zero there, I think things get a lot more interesting,” he said.
They also got a lot more discouraging for the Knights as the game went on. St. Laurence pitchers Anthony Robles, Dan Heiden and Sean Koziol combined to stifle Prospect’s offense the rest of the way while the Vikings’ own attack continued to build steam.
St. Laurence scored at least once in each of its six plate appearances, a four-run third representing the high-water mark. Farrell (two), Mike Finger and John Riordan were the RBI men in that inning, while Greco (double), Chimera (double) and Jack Cavanaugh all hit safely as well.
Finger stroked a two-run double during a later at-bat and Burnette, Rich Lamb and Nick Verta all had RBI-generating groundouts. The Vikings totaled a dozen hits, but those weren’t the only triggers for their impressive comeback.
“You never know [what’ll happen] in those types of games, but I thought Anthony settled down [on the hill] and we were playing better defensively,” Lotus said. “It was good to get that first win and we just needed one to advance.”
Also good for Lotus this summer was seeing the development of a few of his hitters, in particular projected leadoff man Farrell and Greco. While Greco was good enough to be a second-team all-area selection in the spring, he accomplished that solely through his arm.
“We knew he could swing, but he got at-bats kind of sporadically in the spring,” Lotus said. “I think that helped him [with his pitching], but Greco had a really good summer and for us to have a good season next year we have to have him hit well for us.”