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Ike is to Spartans' liking

  • Written by Ken Karrson

 

Ike is to Spartans’ liking

Cardinals fall twice to Oak Lawn in SSC Red

 

By Ken Karrson

Sports Editor

At long last Oak Lawn caught a break.

Not that Spartans coach Bill Gerny would ever downplay any opponent, but the reality is a grim scheduling situation grew a little less so last week when Oak Lawn entered South Suburban Conference Red play. While Eisenhower certainly wasn’t going to roll over and die for the Spartans, it also didn’t present nearly as huge an obstacle to clear as several nonconference foes had the week before.

And Oak Lawn didn’t squander its opportunity to get back on track. It did so by nipping the Cardinals 2-1 last Monday and then blanking them 8-0 in a Tuesday rematch. The good times continued through Wednesday too as the Spartans got past Harlan 7-5.

Lincoln-Way West brought an end to the festivities with an 11-5 triumph on Friday in a game that was hastily scheduled after Morgan Park backed out of an agreement to meet Oak Lawn on Saturday. What made the loss to the Warriors go down a little easier for Gerny was that, in comparison to some earlier setbacks, the Spartans exhibited fight after Lincoln-Way West jumped out to a 10-3 edge in the first two innings.

“It had the feel of a St. Rita or Lyons Township [matchup], where we dug ourselves a hole and folded up,” he said. “But I was glad to see our guys competed and didn’t let it get out of hand. It was a good warm-up for Richards [this past Monday and Tuesday].”

Oak Lawn (4-7, 2-0) immediately dealt itself into the SSC Red race by shuffling the Cards aside with strong pitching. Both sophomore Chad Cwik and senior Matt Witkowski excelled, the former doing so first by tossing a complete game with seven strikeouts and two hits allowed. Cwik needed just 87 pitches to outduel Eisenhower’s Justin Longoria, who limited the Spartans to five hits.

Two of those followed a hit batsman in the first, however, and gave Oak Lawn the only runs it required to prevail. Joe Dodaro slammed a double to drive in Boo Quillin and John Roberts’ single plated Dodaro.

“[For a while] it was like a reoccurring nightmare,” Gerny said of his club’s offense. “[Longoria] had control of three different pitches and our guys were [often] out on their front foot. It’d be nice to step on [an opponent’s] throat when we get them down.”

The Spartans put two men aboard in a couple other innings but to no avail. Of particular note was the fifth, which began with a Cardinals error and Quillin’s double but concluded quietly when a groundout and two strikeouts followed in succession.

Those failures nearly came back to haunt Oak Lawn, but Cwik made sure the potential tying run got left at second base in the seventh by ending the contest with a strikeout.

“We hadn’t pitched him in two weeks [because of elbow tenderness], but he was really in control,” Gerny said of Cwik. “It was definitely a step in the right direction for us and a nice change from what happened the week before, and it was nice to give ourselves a little bit of a cushion starting out in conference.”

                        ***

Witkowski, who’d taken two losses the previous week, was also dominant against Eisenhower as he silenced it on five hits while whiffing eight batters on Tuesday. He issued no walks and was supported by improved fielding behind him.

“Our defense has been such a black hole,” Gerny said. “One of the things we’ve been stressing is getting dirty and getting down to get balls in the infield.”

With the pitching and defense in good working order, all the Spartans needed to complete a series sweep was some hits. Oak Lawn piled up 13 of them, four of which were supplied by Bobby Beard.

His double and Dodaro’s single gave the Spartans a 2-0 lead in the second and Ryne Melnik’s sacrifice fly eventually chased in another run. Dodaro’s first-inning single had gotten Oak Lawn’s scoring underway, and neither he nor Beard was done making an impact.

Beard’s single and Dodaro’s sacrifice fly were both part of a four-run fourth and Beard singled home Quillin (single) with the Spartans’ final tally in the seventh after Roberts doubled in between them. Also providing RBI for Oak Lawn was Yunis Halim, who did so with his two-run single.

            Oak Lawn      7

            Harlan            5

Last Wednesday’s game was played in cool and windy conditions and got stopped after five innings because of approaching darkness. Before that happened, the Spartans roared back from a 4-0 deficit to bag a satisfying victory.

Gerny had anticipated trouble for his hitters when he got a look at Harlan’s hard-throwing pitcher, but doubles by Quillin, Beard (RBI) and Roberts (RBI) during Oak Lawn’s first at-bat allayed those fears. Dodaro also contributed a run-scoring single as the Spartans climbed into a 4-all tie.

“Our guys are accustomed to seeing guys with that kind of fastball and a good secondary pitch,” Gerny said. “They’ve had to battle at the plate, but when all they were seeing [here] was fastballs, they were able to time them and have some fun. Our guys completely proved me wrong.”

Dodaro and Quillin both had RBI doubles later in the contest. Gerny has especially liked Dodaro’s recent play.

“He’s thriving in pressure situations,” Gerny said. “If there’s guys on base in a clutch situation, he’s been coming through. It’s good to see.”

Oak Lawn finished with nine hits and was victorious despite giving up a dozen free passes to the Falcons. While Gerny wasn’t thrilled with that aspect of the Spartans’ performance, he did appreciate their ability to take care of business against a comparable foe.

“Harlan looked like a team very similar to us -- good players but with a tendency to make some mistakes,” Gerny said. “It was nice to see how we matched up with teams other than the top teams. There were positives to build off of.”

                        ***

Ivan Georgelos and Quillin both poked two-run singles for Oak Lawn versus Lincoln-Way West. Dodaro also collected an RBI while Beard doubled. Among three pitchers Halim was the most prominent as he worked 4 1/3 innings of relief on a yield of only two hits.

Besides their confrontations with Richards, the Spartans also had scheduled games against Tinley Park, Marist and Hillcrest this week.

“We’ll have a better idea of how the [rest of the] season’s going to go after this week,” Gerny said. “Richards week is always a big week.”

 

Success comes at a cost

  • Written by Ken Karrson

 

Success comes at a cost

Smith hurt during Astros’ win over Braves

 

By Ken Karrson

Sports Editor

 

            On a day that Shepard won it also lost.

            The Astros only played one game Friday, and that went well as they scored a 9-4 victory over Bremen that kept them unbeaten in South Suburban Conference play. But in that contest senior Brett Smith was hurt during a fifth-inning at-bat.

            “On one of his swings he hurt something pop,” Shepard coach Frank DiFoggio said of Smith, whose injury was actually a re-aggravation of one incurred earlier away from the diamond.

“We carried him off the field and carried him onto the bus. He was going to get an MRI [this past] Monday and we’re preparing for the worst.”

            Already without Kevin Carmody, one of their top hitters, the Astros may now have to do without Smith for the long haul. His absence will put a noticeable crimp in Shepard’s mound staff, meaning veterans Adam Gregory and Eric Horbach must shoulder a greater amount of the pitching load.

            Before he departed, Smith stopped Bremen on two hits while striking out six. He was given a 4-0 lead to protect in the second stanza as Ken Gorski (two-run double), Horbach (sacrifice fly) and Bobby Peterka (RBI single) came through after the Astros (8-3, 3-0) had filled the sacks on two walks and a hit batsman.

            The advantage grew in the third when Kyle Longfield socked a solo homer and again in the fourth when a pair of hit batsmen set the table for another three-run flurry. Rob Marinec knocked in two teammates with a single and Ricky Mundo had one RBI with his hit. Gorski’s single on the heels of a Braves error made it 9-1 shortly before Smith stepped to the plate.

            Seemingly on solid ground, Shepard suddenly wasn’t. Perhaps shaken by what had befallen Smith, the Astros saw their lead reduced by three runs in the fifth and then watched Bremen threaten again in the sixth.

            Longfield, who’d already made a couple of good plays in center field, came to the rescue once more as he laid out to make a diving catch near the warning track to quell the budding uprising. DiFoggio pegged that defensive play as the game’s pivotal moment.

            “[If] he doesn’t catch that ball, it’s 9-6 with their 3-4-5 hitters [coming up] and a man probably standing at third,” DiFoggio said. “We would have been reeling at that point. Longfield made three great catches.”

                        Joliet Central13

                        Shepard          1

            What Bremen couldn’t do on Friday the Steelmen accomplished the next day as they exploded for six runs in their first plate appearance and never wavered en route to a mercy-rule triumph in five innings.

            “They knocked us around,” DiFoggio said of Joliet Central, which racked up 14 hits. “They hit lasers and they hit bloops.”

            And the Astros hit almost nothing. Gregory’s double was one of only two hits mustered by Shepard as Longfield got tagged with a pitching loss.

            Even after the defeat, though, the Astros are off to their best start in over a decade. Now the key is to not let the injuries affect them too badly.

            “We’ve dug the foxhole,” DiFoggio said. “[We’re] taking fire from all sides and rallying around each other.”

                        Shepard          10-4

                        Argo   0-1

            The Astros opened the SSC Red portion of their season in grand style by defeating the Argonauts last Monday and Tuesday. Shepard turned the first game into a rout by amassing nine runs between the fourth and fifth innings.

            DiFoggio said Argo had a hand in the Astros’ initial outburst as it issued a pair of walks and hit a batter. But Shepard also did its part as Gorski, Marinec and Smith all had RBI hits and Gregory launched a sacrifice fly.

            “So far this year -- and I hope I don’t jinx us -- we have been taking advantage of opportunities given to us,” DiFoggio said. “We’re not letting many of those mistakes other teams make go past. We’re pouncing on them.

            “In high school baseball, [I believe] you don’t win games; other teams lose them. Defenses in high school aren’t [always] that good, so you weather the storm and you’re successful.”

            Gregory’s bases-clearing triple and Peterka’s RBI single highlighted a five-run fourth and an Argonauts miscue in the fifth created a double-digit that brought the contest to a premature halt.

            Gorski’s 3-for-3 effort paced an 11-hit attack behind Horbach, who logged his first win on the hill by fanning nine and allowing only three hits.

                                    ***

            While Monday was a breeze for the Astros, beating Argo a second time required a bit more tenacity on Tuesday. Peterka’s three-run homer in the third amounted to the difference.

            He finished the day with three hits, which also included a double. Peterka may have been on fire, but the rest of Shepard’s order wasn’t as just one other hit was produced. Luckily for the Astros Gregory (3-0) was equal to the challenge on the mound as he rang up 13 strikeouts while throwing a three-hitter.

            DiFoggio wasn’t shocked that the Argonauts put up greater resistance in the rematch.

            “You can’t take anybody for granted in conference,” he said. “These kids all know each other and have been playing against each other for a long time and the coaches know each other’s tendencies. So it comes down to who is prepared and who’s willing to fight from beginning to end.”

            Shepard, which plated its last run on an Argonauts throwing error, had only three games on tap this week, two of them SSC crossover affairs. After hosting TF South today, the Astros visit Riverside-Brookfield for a nonconference game on Friday.

 

Road trip

  • Written by Ken Karrson

 

Road trip

Three local teams find success outside Illinois during spring break

 

By Ken Karrson

Sports Editor

 

Many college kids make Florida a spring-break destination.

High school baseball players from Marist, St. Laurence and Brother Rice also took road trips last week as school wasn’t in session following the Easter holiday. But instead of the Sunshine State, those athletes ventured elsewhere.

The RedHawks went to Myrtle Beach, S.C., the Vikings traveled to southern California and the Crusaders journeyed to Louisville, Ky. In addition to getting the chance to play several games, each team’s coach liked the intangibles associated with the excursion.

“It’s not all about the games,” Marist boss Kevin Sefcik said. “It’s the stuff you do along the way. I made sure I gave them their [free] time. We had a hotel right on the water and the kids stayed out of trouble.

“It was everything I could have asked for. It was a great trip.”

Making it even more so were five straight wins at the Mingo Bay Classic, where the RedHawks (7-1) were one of 28 clubs playing in the Class A division. They did not claim a championship but did wind up among the top eight finishers and received a plaque.

Neither St. Laurence nor Rice went unbeaten in its respective tournament, but the out-of-town experience was deemed equally satisfying by both programs.

“One of the more important benefits is the team building and camaraderie,” said Vikings coach Pete Lotus, whose squad was making its sixth consecutive spring trip but its first to California.

“Just being away is good and it seems guys were really looking forward to it.”

Crusaders leader John McCarthy echoed similar sentiments.

“The team-building part was huge,” he said. “I applaud coaches who do it because it’s a very rewarding experience. You remember some of the baseball stuff, but there is going to be a lifetime of memories from this trip.”

            MARIST

Sefcik admitted he "knew nothing about” the RedHawks’ foes in South Carolina before the tourney got underway, although he discovered later the “competition wasn’t world beaters.” Nevertheless, Sefcik still felt Marist played well overall.

And the outcomes proved it. The RedHawks capped their week with perhaps their finest performance to date as they shut out Waccamaw (S.C.) 10-0 behind Rich Kairis, who struck out five and walked one over four innings. For good measure the pitcher also contributed as a hitter as he went 4-for-4 with two runs scored.

Producing multiple-hit efforts as well were Jack Snyder (two hits, two RBI), Tyler Haizel (two hits, two runs, one RBI) and Jake Powers (two hits, one RBI). John Carmody doubled and knocked in a pair of runs while Brian Wood also finished with a hit and two RBI.

“They responded by making sure they were ready,” Sefcik said, referring to his players’ week-long approach to their activities. “We did everything well -- played good defense, ran the bases, pitched. [And] offensively we got way better.

“Once the season starts in baseball, practice stinks. You take [batting practice] before every game, so what do you work on? When you get to play every day, it’s awesome [because] it’s difficult trying to hit when you play one day, then you’re off for two or more.”

Sefcik thought Waccamaw wasn’t too bad a team. The fact Marist rolled over it led him to one conclusion.

“It just goes to show you baseball up here [in Illinois] is really good,” Sefcik said.

Helping to reinforce that idea was St. Rita, which also took part in the Myrtle Beach event. The Mustangs captured the overall championship.

                        ***

Before whitewashing Waccamaw, the RedHawks defeated Lake City (8-2), Cherry Hill East, N.J. (13-7), Cherokee N.J. (7-4) and Hammonton N.J. (7-4). The triumph over Cherokee was realized after Marist expunged an early 4-1 deficit.

“We stayed with it and just kept battling back,” Sefcik said. “I didn’t really know what to expect [from my players before the season] because I didn’t coach them last summer, but [comebacks have] happened twice already. We also did it against De La Salle.

“You can tell them anything you want, but it’s important that kids see [positive] results from what they’re doing.”

Snyder picked up the pitching win after throwing 5 1/3 stanzas of three-hit relief with five strikeouts. Keying the offense was Powers, who went 3-for-4 with two RBI.

Also involved were Zach Sefcik, Haizel and Kairis, all of whom stroked two hits. The younger Sefcik included a double among his and scored twice, Haizel tallied once and Kairis drove in a run.

                        ***

Pat Meehan notched Friday’s victory over Hammonton by working five innings on the mound and fanning seven. Kairis was credited with a save and also matched Haizel by going 3-for-4 at the plate.

Between them the two players accounted for six of the RedHawks’ runs, five of which they scored themselves. Kairis also had an RBI. Carmody registered three RBI while hitting safely once.

Kairis was the pitcher of record against Lake City last Monday as he held it to two hits over five innings. Carmody (two doubles, three RBI) and Wood (two hits, two RBI) were the principal figures on offense.

Grant Kenny (3-for-3 with a double, four runs, two RBI) and Kairis (two hits, including a double, three RBI) paved the way for Marist’s high-scoring win over Cherry Hills East.

Along with beginning East Suburban Catholic Conference play Saturday against Notre Dame, the RedHawks’ schedule this week featured matchups with once-defeated Sandburg and always-tough Mt. Carmel.

            ST. LAURENCE

The Vikings may be veterans when it comes to spring journeys, but their inaugural trip to California presented them with a couple of surprises, one being that a double-digit lead doesn’t automatically trigger a premature stoppage in play.

“We didn’t figure that out until the fourth inning [on Tuesday],” said Lotus, whose team hit Desert Christian with back-to-back five-spots to begin the contest. “We didn’t know there wasn’t a 10-run rule.”

He and St. Laurence also didn’t realize the Don Lugo Tournament would be played on four different high school fields rather than a centralized college or municipal-park site.

“That part I wasn’t too crazy about,” Lotus said. “We knew where our first game was [scheduled], but it was pretty random after that.”

Despite the oddities the Vikings (8-2) managed to go 3-1 and secure third place for themselves. After downing Desert Christian 14-5, things got tighter as St. Laurence slipped past Capistrano Valley 5-2 and lost 2-1 to San Dimas. Relegated to the third-place contest by that setback, the Vikings made the most of it by beating Linfield Christian 6-1.

The final encounter showed St. Laurence in peak offensive form as it smacked 10 hits and stole eight bases. Rich Lamb, Frank Greco and Nick Verta each swiped two bags, and the latter duo also collected three RBI between them. One of Verta’s came on a double.

Tommy Farrell (two hits, one RBI), Dan Cummings (two hits), Anthony Chimera (RBI single) and Zach Erdman were other notables for the Vikings, who scored twice in the first to establish an edge that was never lost. In addition to garnering an RBI, Erdman was the winning pitcher as he tossed three innings of hitless relief.

                        ***

The middle two games represented the sternest tests for St. Laurence. Lotus felt his guys “played one of our best games we’ve played this year” versus Capistrano Valley on Wednesday.

Certainly, Jimmy Burnette did his part as he allowed one hit through five frames while fanning seven. He was backed by good defense too as the Vikes’ lone hiccup was a first-inning error that got overshadowed by two ensuing double plays.

Capistrano Valley did go in front because of that St. Laurence miscue, but the locals bounced back with two runs in the second on Mike Finger’s double. He went deep in the sixth to highlight another two-run eruption, which also featured Chimera’s RBI single.

Anthony Rios provided the Vikings’ other RBI with his third-inning hit.

“They were a good team and it was a different kind of game,” Lotus said. “For the most part we’ve been ahead by a lot, so it was nice to see us in that [competitive] situation. That’s going to be more of the norm going forward instead of the other way.”

San Dimas was 20-0 entering Thursday’s clash with St. Laurence and considered one of the top programs in California, and while it got the better of the Vikings Lotus was satisfied overall. The only real trouble spot, in his opinion, was St. Laurence’s nine strikeouts.

Usually adept at putting bat on ball, the Vikings' high number of whiffs was the second such occurrence for them this spring. Lincoln-Way Central defeated St. Laurence earlier by fanning 10 batters.

“It’s a little concerning for us as coaches when we strike out nine and 10 times,” Lotus said. “I was very happy with how we played defensively and obviously the way Frank [Greco] pitched, but we have to do a better job of getting guys on base. We were not putting the ball in play and didn’t have a tremendous amount of opportunities to score.

“You can’t expect guys to [always] pitch like Frank did -- that’s difficult to do. He was outstanding and he deserved better.”

Greco was nicked for eight hits and walked two but never let San Dimas batters string much together. The California-based club did score once in the second inning, but a diving stop by Verta led to a putout at the plate and kept the two teams tied. The Vikings had tallied in the top of that same inning on an overthrow.

Their only other real scoring chance was in the fifth when they put a man on third with one out. However, the would-be rally died on a groundout and popout. San Dimas then pushed across the deciding marker in its half of the seventh.

“In terms of the teams [we played], it was pretty comparable to the other [spring-break] tournaments we’ve been in,” Lotus said.

                        ***

Lotus was happily surprised by St. Laurence’s rapid getaway against Desert Christian, seeing as how the game got underway at 9:30 a.m. on Tuesday. The Vikings had arrived in southern California late Monday afternoon.

“You never know after a flight [how things will be],” Lotus said.

In case St. Laurence needed an adjustment period, Desert Christian unintentionally offered it by handing the Vikings all of their first-inning runs without benefit of a base hit. St. Laurence received four free passes, had two batters get hit by pitches and lifted a pair of sacrifice flies.

Chalking up RBI were Verta, Rios, Greco, Jimmy Burnette, Sean Burnette and Kevin Aderman.

“It was definitely weird,” said Lotus, who couldn’t recall ever scoring that many times without at least one hit as part of the rally.

Greco (two-run double), Aderman (sacrifice fly) and Jimmy Burnette (RBI single) also struck during the Vikings’ second-inning outbreak. Two errors and a base-on-balls were factored into the uprising as well.

Both Burnettes added RBI singles later on, as did Joe Madera, and Farrell had a sacrifice fly. St. Laurence stroked only eight hits but had 21 baserunners.

The Vikings began Chicago Catholic League crossover play this week.

            BROTHER RICE

Like their Catholic League counterparts, the Crusaders posted a 3-1 ledger away from home. It could have easily been a break-even venture, but Rice (11-3) staved off defeat last Tuesday in rather stunning fashion.

Matched up against a St. Xavier team ranked No. 3 in the state of Kentucky and No. 48 nationally, the Crusaders found themselves trailing 2-0 after six innings. Having mustered just two hits to that point, a comeback seemed a bit of a long shot.

But it was not impossible. Down to its last strike, Rice got a reprieve when Max Hughes singled. That came on the heels of two strikeouts, which had been preceded in the stanza by hits from Ryan King and Jake Ridgway.

Michael Massey and Danny Paluch both coaxed walks after Hughes’ hit, which lifted the Crusaders into a tie. Andrew Dyke then beat out an infield single on a ball that deflected off the pitcher’s glove to push his team in front.

Sophomore Jack Guzek saved the unexpected victory for starting pitcher Ryan Kutt. The two hurlers scattered five hits and struck out that same number of batters.

“In a new environment our guys were uncomfortable, but they had to rally together,” McCarthy said. “They gave it their very best all week and it was definitely a wonderful trip [because of that].

“We knew what we were getting into [with this tournament] -- we scheduled it for a reason. I honestly didn’t know if we were going to win a game, but the [main] goal was to try to come back as a [tight-knit] team. It was good to get to know each other better.

“I was very, very pleased with the week. It was so much fun.”

                        ***

Rice’s tourney opener was far less drama-filled, even though the Crusaders squared off against Eastern High School, another solid Kentucky program. Three runs in the second frame got Rice off and running to a 10-0 victory last Monday.

Mike Schalasky was the Crusaders’ hitting hero as he went 4-for-4 with two homers, a double and five RBI. Joe Preusser (two hits, one RBI), Massey (triple, RBI), Hughes (hit, RBI) and Kutt (hit, RBI) also chipped in to a 13-hit attack.

“Schalasky’s been absolutely fantastic,” McCarthy said. “He worked really, really hard in the offseason. That doesn’t guarantee anything -- sometimes you work your tail off and do everything you’re supposed to and don’t get rewarded for it -- but it’s worked out for him. We’re excited for him and obviously it helps out our team.”

Tom Przekwas notched his first pitching win after scattering eight hits over six innings.

                        ***

Christian Academy snapped a 4-all deadlock with a fifth-inning homer and that proved the difference last Wednesday as Rice got tagged with a 5-4 setback. The round-tripper was one of only two hits reliever Pat Smith surrendered in a 4 2/3-inning stint.

The Crusaders outhit Christian Academy 7-5. Massey and Schalasky evenly split four of the hits between them, one of the former’s going for two bases. He also scored once and knocked in a run.

Ridgway had Rice’s other RBI.

The Crusaders rebounded on Friday to get by Ballard 5-3 as Schalasky threw a five-hitter for six innings while raising his pitching ledger to 3-0. He whiffed four and walked just one.

Schalasky worked with a lead the entire day, thanks to doubles from Hughes and Dyke (RBI) that handed Rice a 1-0 advantage in the opening stanza. Massey’s double chased in two runs one inning later.

Ridgway’s sacrifice fly and a Ballard error delivered the remaining two tallies. Guzek earned his second save of the week by pitching a basically uneventful seventh.

“He’s a steady player, a guy that doesn’t let outside things bother him,” McCarthy said of Guzek, who is only a sophomore. “Having somebody at the back end of the bullpen you can count on is huge.”

McCarthy expressed his appreciation to parents and alumni who made the Crusaders’ trip possible and said his guys are better off because of it.

“We always want to challenge ourselves on the field,” he said. “We were able to get a lot of guys [playing] time and we feel like we’re prepared going into the Catholic League season.”

                        ***

Instead of resting upon their return home, the Crusaders got back into action versus Andrew on Saturday. They were not at their best, however, as evidenced by the 10 free passes issued to the Thunderbolts, which helped the latter gain an 8-5 win.

Schalasky was 3-for-4 and five players had RBI, but that got offset by Andrew’s trio of Tom Bushnell, Mike Carey and Ramon Padilla, each of whom drove in two runs. Bushnell also pocketed the pitching triumph

 

Defeat is no lost cause

  • Written by Ken Karrson

 

Defeat is no lost cause

RedHawks take positives from matchup with Celtics

 

By Ken Karrson

Sports Editor

 

This setback didn’t live down to its name. If anything, the loss provided a gain.

A couple of months from now Marist coach Kevin Sefcik probably won’t view a similar outcome in quite so favorable a light. However, it’s still early in his inaugural season so it’s safe to say this one was worthy of positive feedback.

That’s especially true since last Monday’s opponent, Providence Catholic, is the reigning state champion in Class 4A. And with proven pitcher Brent Villasenor on their side, the Celtics had a main ingredient for success.

They achieved it too thanks to Villasenor’s ability to handcuff RedHawks batters, but not before Marist hurler Rich Kairis showed he was every bit as deserving of praise for a job well done. In fact, had it not been for a slight relief breakdown the RedHawks and Providence might have gone at it for a long while.

But the Celtics benefited from a hit batsman on an 0-2 pitch, which loaded the bags in the sixth, and then a wild pitch that gave them the only run in a 1-0 final. Marist rebounded from that heartbreaker to beat De La Salle 8-7 on Tuesday after climbing out of a 4-0 first-inning hole, but it was the RedHawks’ ability to go toe-to-toe with mighty Providence that excited Sefcik the most.

“They lost a couple of pitchers, but they’re the defending champs and a lot of those position players are back playing for them,” he said of the Celtics. “It’s good for a team to play everybody you’re going to play in sectionals, and we played pretty well. I saw that Providence scored 15 and 18 runs in the next two games.”

Marist’s best chance to strike against Villasenor was in the first when it placed two runners in scoring position. However, the threat died and the RedHawks (2-1) were hard-pressed to issue any others seeing as how Pat Meehan was the only player to hit safely. One of his two hits was a double.

Kairis pitched 5 2/3 frames and was nicked for just three hits. He walked three and whiffed two.

“I think we’ll be one of those teams that will be a tough one to play later on,” Sefcik said. “It’s a good group. We don’t have the flamethrower [on the hill], but we can throw strikes, play pretty good defense and know how to manufacture runs.”

            Marist 8

            De La Salle 7

While that last asset was MIA versus Providence, the RedHawks demonstrated their proficiency in that area one day later.

There were certainly some contributors with the sticks -- Brian Wood, for instance, stroked a couple of hits and both Kairis and John Carmody supplied one hit and two RBI -- but Marist’s comeback from that early 4-0 deficit wasn’t only about that. Also factored in was a good batting eye, something shared by several RedHawks.

“We did a good job of holding off on pitches [outside the strike zone] and they walked a lot of guys,” Sefcik said of the Meteors. “At this point we’ve walked more than we’ve struck out -- that’s something I wouldn’t mind seeing continue.”

Sefick described De La Salle as “a pretty scrappy team,” but that same tag could easily be attached to Marist, which made its coach “real happy that we kept chipping away at them.” But before the RedHawks could bag the victory, they had to survive one last anxious moment.

Down by one with the tying run aboard, the Meteors threatened to tie -- and perhaps move back in front -- when one of their hitters sent a ball to deep center field. However, Kairis drew a bead on it and hauled it at the fence for the game’s final out.

That made a winner of reliever Brandon Hanik, who worked 2 2/3 innings on a yield of one earned run while recording a strikeout and walking one. Jack Snyder earned a save.

Marty Meyer started for Marist, and although he got roughed up at the outset Sefick kept him in the contest. Meyer rewarded his coach’s faith by settling down and pitching very credibly over the next two-plus frames, doing well enough to elicit some praise from Secik.

The RedHawks traveled to South Carolina for a series of games this week.

 

Better by the dozen

  • Written by Ken Karrson

 

Better by the dozen

Knights match school-record win streak

 

By Ken Karrson

Sports Editor

 

The 12 days of Christmas made famous in song have nothing on the first 12 game days on Chicago Christian’s baseball schedule.

Gifts were also plentiful for the Knights over that period, although the variety of them left something to be desired. And that’s exactly how Eric Brauer and his players liked it.

The absence of calling birds, French hens and a partridge made no difference since everyone in the Christian program preferred victories over anything else. With four more added to the team total last week, the Knights had 12 for the year, all of them notched in succession.

Each triumph re-established the school standard for consecutive wins to open a season, and the 12th equaled Chicago Christian’s best streak at any juncture of a campaign. Two of the most recent also got the Knights off to a fast start in the Metro Suburban Conference.

Beaten twice last week was league foe Walther Christian (3-2 and 10-0) while Lisle (7-4) and University High (4-0) were taken down on Thursday and Saturday, respectively.

“We’ve never started a season thinking that way,” Brauer said, referring to the anticipation of a rapid getaway. “We play what’s in front of us. The last couple years we hadn’t even played 12 games in March.

“Obviously we’re excited about what we’ve done. We’ve got plenty to tighten up, [but] I really enjoy my kids this year and competing with them.”

Competition is what Walther gave Chicago Christian (12-0, 2-0) in earnest last Monday. The Broncos led through 3 ½ innings and an ensuing 2-all tie wasn’t broken until the sixth when Trevor Wolterink and Zach Frieling belted back-to-back doubles for the Knights.

That duo went a combined 6-for-6 on the day, which allowed Christian to overcome an otherwise stagnant offense and make a winner of reliever Tyler Edgar, who struck out six, walked one and gave up two hits in 4 1/3 innings of work. Frieling drove in the Knights’ other two runs with his fourth-inning two-bagger, which followed singles by Jack DeVries and Wolterink.

“We don’t want one or two guys to have to carry us all the time,” Brauer said. “[But] their pitcher did a nice job. He commanded three different pitches and we were a little off-balance at times.

“A lot of teams in our conference have one really strong pitcher [so] you expect Monday games to be tough. It wasn’t pretty, but we did enough to win.”

That included ending the contest with catcher Brian Finger picking off a Walther baserunner.

                        ***

Brauer felt the Broncos had “probably played as well as they could play on Monday. They didn’t do anything to beat themselves.” But because it got saddled with a loss anyway Walther might have been dealing with a bit of shaken confidence.

Whatever the reason the Broncos squad that hosted Christian on Tuesday was far more easily vanquished. The Knights scored a run in four of their first five at-bats and then closed out Walther with a six-run explosion in the sixth. DeVries (two-run) and Christian Bolhuis both homered to highlight the late rally.

Pat McCarthy delivered two singles and a total of three RBI on the day, winning pitcher Dan Vos knocked in another run with a hit and Ron Clark socked a triple that led to a score when the Broncos made an overthrow at the end of the play.

On the mound Vos ran his record to 4-0 with a five-inning stint that included four strikeouts and just three hits allowed.

            Chicago Christian     7

            Lisle    4

The Knights spotted the Lions three first-inning runs on Thursday at Plunkett Park in Elmhurst and didn’t erase that entire deficit until the fourth frame. That’s when Christian erupted for four markers to grab a 6-3 lead.

“We saw a different [type of] pitcher every day and we didn’t really settle in and [consistently] have great at-bats,” Brauer said. “We did struggle offensively [at times], but we did a nice job of chipping away [against Lisle].”

The Knights’ uprising in the fourth featured RBI from Adam Schoenle (sacrifice fly), Jacob Bulthuis (double), Vos (single) and McCarthy (single). Vos had lofted a sacrifice fly one inning earlier while Christian’s other two runs in the game came courtesy of Lions miscues.

Schoenle relieved Bolhuis in the first stanza and was credited with pitching seven full innings. Schoenle fanned nine, surrendered three hits, walked two and needed only 83 pitches to collect his third victory of the spring.

“That was the best he’s thrown for us since he’s been at Chicago Christian,” Brauer said of Schoenle. “He really threw strong.”

            Chicago Christian     4

            University High         0

Strong too was the performance put on by Wolterink Saturday versus the Maroons, who whiffed 10 times against him over five innings. Bolhuis and Edgar each registered one strikeout in a one-inning relief stint.

But while the Knights’ pitching was top-notch, their batting languished. Not until the fifth did Christian break through, and even then it got a boost from a University error that let the initial run cross the plate. Clark smacked a two-out, two-run single and Vos had an RBI hit to complete the scoring in that inning.

“The first 17 guys in the game got out -- nine of ours and eight of theirs,” Brauer said. “It was definitely a slow start and they were one out away [in the fifth] from [us not] doing [much] damage.”

Two meetings with Ridgewood, which finished second to Illiana Christian in the MSC in 2014, and one with Wheaton Academy were the key dates for the Knights this week.

“In my mind this is a really big week -- Wheaton Academy’s had our number lately so we’ll see how we compete,” Brauer said. “We’re not real focused on a conference championship; we’re more focused on the postseason, but Mondays and Tuesdays give you a good idea of where you’re at because you’re [usually] facing good pitching.”

While everything has been smooth sailing thus far, Brauer admits there is one area that can be a concern for a good club under certain conditions.

“It’s tough to make a lot of changes when you’re winning because you’ve kind of settled into a lineup,” he said. “So it’s a challenge to keep the entire roster happy [because] you can’t get 15 guys normal reps. You hope they enjoy being part of a successful team.

“Winning doesn’t make all problems disappear. You can have problems, but we really do have a good mix of kids that play for the team.”