Written by Ken Karrson
It’s odd that they’re even
Crusaders, Vikings trade one-run victories
By Ken Karrson
Playing on even terms is not all that shocking when two Chicago Catholic League Blue teams square off against one another.
So that part of last week’s series between Brother Rice and St. Laurence likely caught no one off guard. What made the split eye-opening was the fact the two contests were almost identical, right down to the 1-0 final scores that favored the Vikings on Wednesday and the Crusaders three days later.
“It’s sort of crazy for sure,” St. Laurence coach Pete Lotus said. “I don’t know how many we’ve had in [my] 10 years [here] but definitely not two 1-0 games in the same season, let alone the same week. In high school baseball that’s not so common.
“It speaks to the parity in the league. That’s what makes it so interesting and fun.”
Lotus got no argument about any of his observations from coaching counterpart John McCarthy.
“It was two good teams going at it,” McCarthy said. “Obviously you want to win both, but it was just great pitching performances on both sides [both days] -- classic pitchers’ duels.
“It was good baseball. It’s a credit to the job Pete and his staff are doing and a credit to what my assistants are doing.”
Besides the victory itself, what made Wednesday’s game special to Lotus was that it was a welcome-back occasion for pitcher John Riordan, who was thought to be lost for the season after breaking a knuckle on his non-throwing hand in the 2015 opener. After seeking a number of medical opinions, Riordan found a doctor comfortable with inserting a wire instead of pins into the finger, thereby speeding up the recovery process.
All Riordan did upon his return was fire a three-hitter and require just 79 pitches to shut down Rice.
“We didn’t know what we were going to get,” Lotus said. “It was great to get John back and I was real happy for him. It was tough for him to sit out.”
Crusaders sophomore Jack Guzek was every bit Riordan’s equal except for the sixth inning. Although the Vikings collected only three hits themselves, Frank Greco’s single helped fuel the game’s lone scoring as it moved Nick Verta (walk, stolen base) to third and enabled him to cross the plate on Anthony Rios’ groundout.
Rios accounted for St. Laurence’s other two hits. The Vikings didn’t get anyone past second base until the sixth.
Ryan King had two of Rice’s safeties and Mike Schalasky smacked a double. Before the week was out Schalasky raised his season homer total to 10 as he continued to be the area’s most prolific power hitter.
“The type of year he’s having is absolutely fantastic,” McCarthy said. “It’s pretty impressive the type of season he’s putting together. He’s having a career year and it’s a credit to the work he’s put in.”
Role reversal was in effect on Saturday, a day when Rice honored its current seniors and inducted three former players into its Athletic Hall of Fame. Ushered in were 2009 graduates Bobby Schuch and Kevin Callahan and 2010 alumnus Kevin Koziol.
What that trio witnessed was another tense matchup, this one pitting Schalasky against Greco. Schalasky allowed just two hits over six innings and reliever Jack Butler gave up another in the seventh, but singles by Greco, Rios and Jack Cavanaugh weren’t enough to get the job done for the Vikings.
Like Guzek on Wednesday, Greco was the pitcher who finally blinked -- barely. Again the sixth stanza decided it as King singled, was sacrificed to second, got to third on a wild pitch and scored on Ryan Kutt’s sacrifice fly. For the second time versus St. Laurence, King stroked a pair of hits.
“It was eerily similar [to Wednesday],” Lotus said of Saturday’s encounter. “I definitely didn't expect it.”
“[Both clubs] were playing hard, playing disciplined and staying focused,” McCarthy said. “As a player, the Catholic League Blue sets you up for the postseason [with] the intensity of the games, the pressure [and level of] competition. I feel our kids are prepared for that situation and the rigors of the playoffs with these 1-0 games.”
Brother Rice 3
St. Rita 2
The Crusaders also engaged the Mustangs in a one-run battle last Tuesday, a game highlighted by two-run dingers from Schalasky and St. Rita’s Tyler Halas. However, the hero of the day in McCarthy’s view was Jake Petraitis.
A seldom-used senior, Petraitis was called on to pinch hit when the contest entered the eighth inning and he delivered a game-winning single. McCarthy was thrilled for his player.
“It’s absolutely wonderful for him,” the coach said. “He hasn’t gotten a lot of at-bats and it’s a difficult task to hit in that situation and environment, but it shows the type of kid he is -- hard-working and a pure character guy. To see him come through and how excited our kids were for him shows you how much everybody thinks of him. He does everything for us.
"He is the ultimate teammate and I can’t say enough about him. That’s why you do this job -- to see kids like that [prosper]. It’s really, really special.”
Halas’ round-tripper was one of only three hits surrendered by Kutt, who fanned eight and walked three while triumphing for the sixth time this spring. Interestingly, the Mustangs’ other two hits also went for extra bases as Danny Gleaves and Steve Martinez both doubled.
This win and the one over St. Laurence assured Rice (24-8, 11-5) of a third-place finish in the CCL Blue behind Mt. Carmel and St. Rita. The Crusaders split their season series with the Mustangs but lost twice to the Caravan -- it was right after the second of those setbacks that Rice regrouped and embarked on its late-season surge.
“We could have gone south there, but we played very well in late April and [halfway through] May,” McCarthy said. “It shows the grit they have.
“The character of this ballclub is their resiliency, and they kept fighting and trying to get better. We felt like we fought hard every day and I’m very, very pleased with where we’re at.”
Brother Rice 10
Venturing out of the CCL Blue, the Crusaders tangled with the Bulldogs on Friday, one week after a previous meeting was washed out by rain less than two innings into the contest.
Richards players may have wished they had skipped the latest get-together because Rice hurler Tom Przekwas scattered five hits during a five-inning mound stint. The Bulldogs trailed 6-0 at that juncture and posed no real threat to the Crusaders’ well-being.
“They’ve got a nice team,” Richards coach Brian Wujcik said of Rice. “They play defense, swing the bats well and it looks like they’re pretty deep in pitching. We had seven hits [on the day], but we couldn’t get anything going.”
Chris Zeschke and Ryan Renken each had two hits to pace the Bulldogs’ attack. The Crusaders, meanwhile, knocked out 11, a total that included two Schalasky long balls that accounted for five RBI. Guzek went 3-for-3 with a double and two RBI, Petraitis drove in a run with his sixth-inning single and both King and Michael Massey swatted two-baggers.
McCarthy thought Rice’s display offered a great example of its range of offensive weapons.
“Balance is key to a lineup,” he said. “You’ve got to be able to win in different ways [and] we feel we’ve got a pretty balanced lineup.
“We have guys who can hit homers, but we also have guys who can bunt and run and hit for average and win [games for us] with line drives. [But] we have to stay consistent with our approach [at the plate] and be mentally tough.”
As if the Crusaders’ offense wasn’t already potent enough, Richards unintentionally aided it with three errors. Two of those were pivotal in Rice’s four-run third.
“When you play a team like Brother Rice, you can’t give them extra chances because they’ll take advantage of it,” Wujcik said.
St. Laurence 6
Loyola Academy 2
The Vikings waited until the fifth inning to score last Tuesday, but the delay was worth it as they erupted for enough runs to down the Ramblers and complete a two-game series sweep.
St. Laurence wasn’t without opportunities before that, but doubles by Rios, Tommy Farrell and Jake Tholl all got wasted. The Vikings also had a runner thrown out at the plate in the sixth, but that failure didn’t matter as Greco’s grand slam capped a productive stanza. Kevin Aderman, Cavanaugh (RBI) and Farrell (RBI) all hit safely ahead of him.
Even more satisfying to Lotus than his team’s 11-hit assault was Anthony Robles’ effort on the hill. He threw the first 5 2/3 frames and didn’t allow a single baserunner until the sixth. Four Loyola Academy hits in that inning enabled it to ruin Robles’ shutout bid.
Nevertheless, Lotus liked what he saw from Robles and reliever Zach Erdman as well as his other hurlers during the week.
“If we get pitching like we had last week, we’re going to continue being successful by doing that,” Lotus said. “We’ve been throwing the ball really well and we’ve gotten a lot better defensively the last couple weeks. We had that rough stretch [a few weeks ago], but all these games this [past] week I thought we played really, really well.”
With Saturday’s loss to Rice factored in, the Vikings (20-9, 9-7) had to settle for fifth place in the CCL Blue after claiming conference championships in 2013 and 2014.
St. Laurence 10
A clash with SouthWest Suburban Conference Blue co-leader Lockport on Thursday resulted in another success for the Vikings, who constructed a 9-0 edge by the fourth inning and easily withstood some late noisemaking by the Porters.
For the first 5 1/3 frames, sophomore Angel Sandoval gave Lotus all he could have wanted pitching-wise. Lockport batters whiffed four times against Sandoval and confined most of their seven hits off him and Erdman to the sixth.
“They were very good, but Angel did a good job mixing up pitches and keeping them off-balance,” Lotus said. “I’m really happy with the way we played, especially coming off a 1-0 win against a rival.”
St. Laurence twice erupted for four runs, using Verta’s two-run double and Cavanaugh’s RBI single as the key blows in the second and another two-RBI Verta hit as a main ingredient in the fourth. Also contributing to the latter rally were Rios (RBI single), Farrell (single) and Greco (sacrifice fly).
Greco had two additional RBI in the game, one on another sacrifice fly and the other on a groundout. Farrell, who had gone 4-for-4 against Loyola, added a 3-for-3 performance and three stolen bases here. He is batting over .500 for the season.