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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.”

 

Coyne instrumental in U.S. regaining world title

  • Written by Ken Karrson

 

COYNEFEACHPHOTO.4-9

Coyne instrumental in U.S. regaining world title

By Tim Cronin

            It was a simple play, one attempted often but not always executed with the precision needed to succeed.

Kendall Coyne made that play Saturday afternoon in Malmo, Sweden, doing so at the time her team -- the U.S. women’s hockey team -- needed it most.

The Americans and rival Canada were tied at 5-all with less than nine minutes left in regulation. The championship game of the Women’s World Championship had already seen wide-open river hockey in the first period when the U.S. took a 4-2 lead and Canada’s second-period counterpunch, which consisted of three goals in just over two minutes, the last of which knotted the score.

The third period was closer to both teams’ core: tight checking, defense first, chances taken only after assessing the risks.

Risk assessment was what Palos Heights native and Sandburg graduate Coyne did while leaving the U.S. zone in traffic along the left-wing boards. She fired a quick pass -- which was banked off the boards so it would elude a Canadian defender -- ahead to linemate Hilary Knight.
            Without playing the proper angle, the puck likely skitters away or gets picked off and the Canadians suddenly would have had numbers flooding the U.S. zone. But Coyne’s pass was perfect and Knight gobbled it up at full speed -- with company.

“Actually, I recall looking to go cross-ice to [Brianna] Decker,” Coyne said. “But the defenseman was there, so I put it up the boards. And if it got past Hilary, she’s one of the best players in the world [so] she’d know what to do.”

Some 30 feet to Knight’s right was Decker, the third member of the line, who was also flying. Only one Canadian defender was back. The duo breezed into the Canadian zone, Knight flicked the puck to Decker at the perfect time and Decker hammered it home for a 6-5 lead with 8 minutes and 18 seconds remaining.

The Canadians had no answer. One hooking penalty later the U.S. power play struck, Coyne doing the striking. She grabbed a rebound to the left of Canada’s net, scooted around it and went to the high slot.

“We were overloading the right side, so I took it high,” Coyne said. “I was looking to pass.”

Instead, she whistled a wrist shot past goaltender Genevieve Lacasse with 6:42 left for the insurance goal in the Americans’ 7-5 title-game victory.

It was hardly a surprise that Coyne was in the middle of it all when the game was on the line. She scored the gold medal-winning goals in the first two Women’s World Junior championships, doing so in sudden-death overtime on the second occasion. What would have been the winning goal the third straight year was wiped out by an incorrect call.

And when she finally made the Olympic squad, Coyne was a big threat on the biggest stage of all as she paced the U.S. in scoring.

The seed for Saturday’s victory might well have been planted then, 14 months ago, in Sochi, Russia. The Americans led Canada late in the Olympic championship game, only to see the Canadians tie the score in the third period and win in overtime. And while the U.S. had claimed the previous four world championships, Canada has won the Olympic title since the second tournament in 1994.

Most of the 2014 American team was back, but the coach was new as Ken Klee is now behind the bench. He had to instill a new attitude while using an old wound as a spur, and do so in short order. The team assembled only after the collegiate regular season concluded -- Coyne had just finished her junior campaign at Northeastern University in Boston.

If any demons were in U.S. players’ minds after the Canadians scored thrice in 2:03 of the second period on Saturday, it wasn’t evident in the third. They buckled down defensively and then Coyne made a play. But Canada had come back before.

“[With] the veterans on the team, what’s going through their minds is exactly what you think is,” Coyne said. “But Coach Klee was great. He said, ‘Two more shifts. Bust your butt for 40 seconds each time.’”

They did and got the trophy as a reward.

“I think it’s a big relief and a big accomplishment for our girls to battle back in a game where you’re up and then it gets tied up again [and you manage] to still find a way to get it done,” Klee told IIHF.com.

Again playing bigger than her 5-foot-2 frame would suggest is possible, Coyne finished with a plus-8 defensive rating, a mark shared by Decker and Knight. Knight was named tournament MVP and was joined by Decker on the all-tourney squad. Together the three linemates piled up 30 points in five games, all victories.

Knight finished with 12 points, Decker had 11 and Coyne seven on three goals and four assists.

“Personally, it was really easy because I was playing with Brianna Decker and Kendall Coyne,” Knight said of her tournament scoring. “How do you not perform the way I performed at this tournament with those guys? Huge hats off to my linemates -- they’re phenomenal players.”

“It was definitely a back-and-forth game,” Knight said. “I’m sure the fans loved it. And obviously you can come out with a smile on your face if you played hard and you come out with a win.”

That’s especially true when the outcome of a year ago can be left on the tarmac before the flight home.

For Coyne, it’s three golds and a silver in world and Olympic competition, a glittering resume that, aside from players in her group, few American hockey players can match. But the player who as a kid told her mom that figure skating wouldn’t cut it -- “I need the sport,” she said all those years ago -- is eager for more.

How long will she play?

“As many times as my body will allow,” Coyne said.

 

Every which way they can

  • Written by Ken Karrson

 

Every which way they can

Vikings use different means to bag pair of wins

 

By Ken Karrson

Sports Editor

 

Give St. Laurence some credit for ingenuity.

When a team musters just five hits in one game and commits nine errors in the next, the odds against success would appear to be stacked pretty high. But not only did the Vikings overcome both those circumstances in their first week of action, their triumphs were gained by shockingly wide margins.

In last Thursday’s season-opener versus Lake View, for example, St. Laurence tallied at least three times in three separate innings to win via mercy rule, 11-0. Then on Saturday the Vikings traveled to Peoria for what was planned as a two-game stay.

Peoria Notre Dame, however, bowed out, perhaps after seeing St. Laurence survive a slew of mishaps in the field to defeat Peoria Richwoods 14-6. While Vikings coach Pete Lotus wasn’t especially enamored of making a long journey for just one contest or seeing all the defensive breakdowns, watching a high-octane offense do its thing brightened his mood.

“We didn’t play well defensively -- I’ve never been a part of nine errors and it was a little frustrating,” Lotus said. “[But] we swung the bats great.”

Fifteen hits testified to that, and St. Laurence augmented those with 13 stolen bases. Kevin Aderman swiped four bags, four other players had two thefts and the Vikings boasted five multiple-hit guys, a quintet led by Anthony Rios (4-for-5, two RBI) and Jimmy Burnette (3-for-3).

Also getting into the batting act were Mike Finger (two hits, three RBI), Tommy Farrell (double, triple, two RBI), Jack Cavanaugh (two hits), Nick Verta (bases-clearing triple) and Anthony Chimera (one hit, two RBI).

Undoubtedly St. Laurence’s assault caught at least some people by surprise. Don’t count Lotus among that group, however.

“We’re possibly overlooked because of the guys we lost,” said Lotus, whose 2014 graduates included 2013 Player of the Year Mike Kornacker (Purdue) and Brad Wood (Northern Illinois). “These are not as recognizable names and some new guys are going to have to step up, but don’t get me wrong: We’re going to be good. We have some talented kids.

“I think our guys have worked really hard and I don’t expect anything different than in other years, [which means] going out there and truly competing. I think the guys expect that too.”

The Vikings’ two lower-level clubs both posted more than 20 victories last spring and seriously challenged for Chicago Catholic League titles, so a winning mentality is already in place. St. Laurence did receive a tough blow, though, as senior John Riordan broke a bone in his hand in a non-game situation and will be lost for the remainder of the season.

“It’s disappointing for John and I feel awful for him,” Lotus said. “Even with the big guys we had last year, he had four or five wins and he had a great summer. He was kind of a leader for us.”

Frank Greco, who knocked in one of the Vikings’ runs with a sacrifice fly, surrendered 10 hits during a five-inning stint on the hill but was touched for only three earned runs. He struck out four while capturing his eighth consecutive varsity triumph without a loss dating back to last season.

Mike Munoz and Cavanaugh each threw an inning of relief, with the latter striking out the side in the seventh.

            St. Laurence 11

            Lake View 0

Five hits aren’t normally enough to get an offense labeled potent, but when they’re mixed with eight hit batsmen and seven walks it spells trouble for the opposition. Such was the scenario on Thursday as the Wildcats got rolled.

“It wasn’t like their pitchers were terrible -- they just didn’t throw many strikes,” Lotus said. “It’s obviously tough to tell much when you’re getting walked and hit by pitches that many times, but I thought we did a pretty good job [of capitalizing on chances].”

Rios’ RBI triple was St. Laurence’s lone extra-base hit and one of two on the day for him. Greco (hit by pitch, sacrifice fly), Riordan (single), Finger (hit by pitch), Burnette (walk) and Dan Cummings (walk) were the Vikings’ other RBI men. Hitting safely in addition to Rios and Riordan were Cavanaugh and Anthony Robles.

Dan Heiden, the first of three St. Laurence hurlers, was credited with the win after going three stanzas on a yield of one hit while fanning four. Lake View notched just two other hits in the remaining frames off relievers Zach Erdman and Munoz.

Three games were on this week’s schedule, the last of those being Saturday’s matchup with Wheaton-St. Francis. Prior to that the Vikings were due to square off with Lincoln-Way Central and Harlan.

 

Chargers tell them to 'ScRam'

  • Written by Ken Karrson

 

 

 

STAGGBASE.PHOTO.4-2

 

Chargers tell them to ‘ScRam’

Early uprisings enable Stagg to overpower Reavis

 

By Ken Karrson

Sports Editor

 

Three games into the 2015 season Matt O’Neill looks like quite the sage.

When asked about his team’s assets prior to the start of the campaign, Stagg’s coach projected that offense should be among its stronger ones. Seeing as how the Chargers’ attack had been somewhat sketchy in recent years, O’Neill’s assessment might have seemed like little more than wishful thinking to many.

But as Stagg demonstrated last Thursday, he was right on the money. The Chargers won't be mistaken for the 1927 Yankees, but they definitely possess greater punch than they have of late.

Reavis learned that the hard way. Normally a competitive squad against most opponents, the Rams were out of their element versus Stagg.

Part of Reavis’ undoing came at its own hands -- it was guilty of an uncharacteristically high seven errors -- but the Chargers also did their share of the lifting as they knocked out 17 hits. Seven of those were doubles and Stagg runners crossed the plate 15 times over the first two innings.

Those early explosions laid the groundwork for a stunningly lopsided 19-2 victory over the Rams that improved the Chargers’ ledger to 2-1. They had lost to Nazareth Academy and edged Romeoville the week before.

“I think we have the ability to do this hopefully pretty consistently,” O’Neill said of his squad’s onslaught. “Everybody that got a chance to bat did pretty well in that game.

“We did what we should do. [Reavis is] really young and they’re a little down, and we took advantage of their mistakes.”

Did they ever. Stagg’s five-run first inning was a hodgepodge as Rams mishaps were largely responsible for the rally, but a 10-run second featured several clutch hits for the Chargers, most notably two-RBI doubles from Calogelo Martinez and Brett Stratinsky.

Mike Bibbiano also doubled as part of the eruption while Dennis Egan (two RBI), Gary Kopca and Mitchell Spencer all had run-producing singles. Spencer earned a second RBI by getting plunked with a pitch with the bags jammed.

Bibbiano, Kopca, Spencer, Egan, Nate Miranda and Josh Nowak all went 2-for-2 and either drove in a run, scored or did both. Nowak, who has already been stationed at four different positions, has filled a hole for Stagg in the leadoff spot.

“I think there are some guys that, as juniors, we saw some potential in them,” O’Neill said. “It took them a little while to figure some things out, but they put in a tremendous amount of time in the weight room and a lot of these guys are football players who have the right attitude about competing. [As far as] the competition for jobs, we haven’t had this much in a few years.”

There’s something else benefitting this year’s upperclassmen.

“Our team last year set the tone as far as leadership and what it takes to be a good team,” O’Neill said. “Our seniors learned [success] takes more than baseball ability.”

Nick Gerzon, Stagg’s starter, was the winning pitcher. He and three relievers combined to strike out six, walk only two and limit the Rams to three hits. But despite that credible overall performance, O’Neill still tabs pitching as something of an unknown and says he and his staff have still not identified a clear-cut No. 1 guy.

Several pitchers were going to be needed this week as five games were on the schedule. Those affairs included a home date with Marist today and a visit to Lemont on Saturday. The Indians were pummeled 10-0 by Sandburg in a meeting last week.

 

Living in a perfect world

  • Written by Ken Karrson

 

 

 

CCBASE.PHOTO1.4-2

 

Living in a perfect world

Knights set school record for best start

 

By Ken Karrson

Sports Editor

 

While other teams scramble to find baseball games, Chicago Christian keeps on playing -- and winning.

The Knights raised their season total of completed contests to eight, the same number that is counted on the left side of the ledger. Victories six, seven and eight came last week, one of them at the expense of a first-time foe.

Never before Thursday had Christian and Lincoln-Way East met on the diamond, but that changed now that Mark Vander Kooi is in charge of athletics at the Frankfort school. A former football coach and AD at Christian, Vander Kooi contacted Knights coach Eric Brauer to ask if he was interested in a game.

Brauer, also Christian’s current AD, didn’t hesitate to say yes.

“If somebody calls and wants to play, we’ll usually try to find a way to play it if we can,” he said. “We felt pretty good about it.”

Brauer and his players felt even better by day’s end as the Knights made the most of their opportunity against a member of the highly regarded SouthWest Suburban Conference Blue. Despite owning a roster that was about double the size of Christian’s, the Griffins wound up short on the scoreboard.

They did draw first blood but went dry after the opening frame. There were a couple threats issued, but Knights pitchers were equal to the task. And a three-run third inning snapped a 2-all tie and sent Christian on its way to a 5-2 win.

“They were probably better than us, but we played a real clean game with no errors,” Brauer said. “It boils down to toughness a little bit.

“It was a quality win, no doubt about it, but more than anything it continues to instill in our guys the attitude we’ve been preaching for seven years: show up every day expecting to win.”

The Knights didn’t let that success make them overconfident, however. On Saturday they were down in Jacksonville, Ill., for a jamboree and bagged two more triumphs: 11-6 over Rockford Christian and 14-0 over Reed-Custer. The second of those gave Christian eight straight wins to open the 2015 campaign, its best start ever to a season.

The Knights could match the longest winning streak in program history with another clean sweep this week. Christian achieved its record of 12 in a row in 2005 under Brauer’s predecessor Sam Hamstra, whom Brauer credits with initially creating the proper environment for success.

Hamstra certainly would have been proud of the Knights’ efforts on Thursday, which included input from many. Four pitchers took the mound, a move made by Brauer to ensure he’d have enough rested arms available for Saturday and also because it “was going to be cold so I couldn’t extend anybody too long.”

2014 Player of the Year Christian Bolhuis logged the victory by throwing the final 3 2/3 innings. The only trouble he encountered occurred in the seventh, but the Griffins left two runners stranded when Bolhuis rang up a strikeout.

The Knights generated just seven hits, but three of them accounted for four RBI. Zach Frieling’s two-run double and Dan Vos’ single were the key elements of the aforementioned third-inning surge while Tyler Edgar chased home a teammate with his second-inning hit. Ron Clark’s grounder also knocked in an early run.

When asked if this ranked as a marquee win for Christian, Brauer preferred to simply view it as something that could possibly pay dividends down the road.

“Playing some good teams and good games hopefully prepares us for conference [contests, which began this week],” Brauer said. “And hopefully it sets us up for a nice playoff run [in Class 2A].”

            Chicago Christian     11

            Rockford Christian   6

            Chicago Christian     14

            Reed-Custer   0

Not until the fifth inning of Saturday’s first game did the Knights hold an advantage. They garnered it with a four-run outburst fueled by Trevor Wolterink’s two-run single and Tyler Edgar’s RBI double. Vos’ groundout also supplied a tally.

Edgar (double) and Wolterink had RBI hits as well during Christian’s three-run third. Other RBI producers were DeVries (double), Bolhuis (single) and Adam Schoenle (walk).

The Knights totaled eight hits and coaxed eight bases-on-balls and, true to frequent form, made the most of their chances.

“We preach quality at-bats to the kids -- we do bunt and put balls on the ground to move runners,” said Brauer, whose team has executed 13 sacrifice plays so far and drawn 41 free passes. “A lot of talented kids don’t want to do that, but our kids don’t come at it from that angle.

“It takes a little bit of checking your pride at the door, [but] it’s all about the team. Our kids are good, unselfish ballplayers [who] really buy into the team aspect and what we do.”

Wolterink, Bobby Schaaf and Schoenle shared the pitching duties, with the latter picking up his second victory of the young season.

                        ***

The Comets have traditionally fielded a solid baseball squad, so Brauer was caught off guard by their inability to issue much of a challenge to the Knights in Saturday’s second encounter.

“We were very surprised at the score and the outcome,” he said. “It really wasn’t a very good game.”

Since teams at the jamboree don’t play a set number of games -- “Some play two, some play three, some play four,” Brauer said -- the Christian boss was unsure as to whether Reed-Custer was facing a pitching shortage or saving arms for another contest. But there was no question as to the effect the Knights’ bats had on the Comets, particularly in the fourth stanza.

That’s when Christian broke the contest wide open with a 10-spot. Josh Hill’s bases-clearing double capped the huge uprising, but Vos (two-run single), Bolhuis (triple), Frieling, Schoenle and Pat McCarthy also delivered RBI hits.

Vos, DeVries and Jacob Bulthuis knocked in earlier runs with singles. The Knights scored four times over the first three frames. Their 14 runs meant only three baserunners were stranded as Christian finished with 14 hits and three bases-on-balls.

“That’s not a bad stat to keep up,” said Brauer, whose team used a similarly high runners-to-runs ratio as a main ingredient in a 30-win season a couple years ago.

“I don’t care how our guys score -- when we get them on, we want to get them in. In a playoff game, if you only have five guys get on base but they all score, you have a good chance to win.”

Brauer again used a three-man group on the mound and starter Vos improved to 3-0 after pitching the first three innings for the Knights, who were slated to play Walther Christian this past Monday and Tuesday in their first two games as a member of the Metro Suburban Conference.