Better by the dozen
Knights match school-record win streak
By Ken Karrson
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
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.”