A league that they own
Knights claim title in debut MSC season
By Ken Karrson
For Chicago Christian, thrice is right.
A move into the Metro Suburban Conference for the 2014-15 school year did nothing to derail the Knights’ championship train. However, having won the final two league titles in the now-disbanded Suburban Christian Conference meant Chicago Christian technically had nothing to defend.
Interestingly, that’s kind of how the Knights decided to look at this year’s situation as well.
“You don’t set out to be second,” Christian coach Eric Brauer said. “[But] we really haven’t discussed [another conference crown] as being important.”
The emphasis, he said, was on the Knights advancing deeper into the 2015 postseason, which got underway for the state’s Class 1A and 2A schools this week. Christian was hosting its own 2A regional and due to have its first playoff contest on Wednesday.
But the Knights entered it as a league champ yet again. Although it was not given high priority by anyone within the Christian program, the feat was accomplished after the Knights swept past three MSC opponents last week.
Chicago Christian was guaranteed no worse than a title share, and the Knights would capture it outright if rival Illiana Christian lost any of its three remaining conference encounters. But even a co-championship, though it wasn’t considered a specific goal, is satisfying.
“It was nice to get,” Brauer said. “Our kids are definitely excited.”
And they had a right to be. The Knights’ three consecutive crowns are only one fewer than were collected between 1942 and 2012. What made this latest one especially notable is that Christian had to navigate a 19-game league schedule, its largest ever.
“A key to doing well in conference games is having a deep pitching staff,” Brauer said. “We have five pitchers with 30 or more innings [thrown].”
That balance is reflected in the fact that, prior to Christian Bolhuis’ performance last Wednesday versus Elmwood Park, no Knights hurler had pitched a complete game this spring. Dan Vos then followed suit on Saturday.
Bolhuis’ nine-strikeout, two-hit effort enabled Christian to sweep the Tigers, who had suffered a 16-6 setback the day before. Amazingly, the Knights routed Elmwood despite falling behind 6-1 in the second inning.
“Getting down [like that] was a big hole,” Brauer said. “If they would have pitched their No. 1 [guy] Tuesday instead of Wednesday, we would have been in trouble.”
Things obviously weren’t great Tuesday either, but Brauer believed a comeback was possible.
“We had been hitting their guy pretty hard -- to their credit they made the plays,” Brauer said. “I definitely thought we were going to get to him. [Then] when they made a pitching change, it went south [on them] pretty quick.”
The Knights had closed the gap to two during their fourth-inning at-bat and then exploded with 12 runs in the fifth to win by the mercy rule. Seven players had RBI in the frame, including Adam Schoenle (three on two doubles), Jack DeVries (two-run double), Josh Hill (two-run double) and Trevor Wolterink (RBI single, sacrifice fly).
Wolterink finished with a team-high four RBI on the day and Zach Frieling added two while swatting a pair of doubles. Christian totaled 16 hits in support of Wolterink, who earned the victory in relief of Vos.
The scenario was vastly different in the rematch, although Elmwood Park again took the first lead when it tallied on a wild pitch in the fifth. With the Knights in the midst of a 12-strikeout day, Brauer wasn’t feeling particularly optimistic.
“In a pitchers’ duel, it felt like that might be enough [for them],” he said of the Tigers’ run.
Christian showed only two signs of offensive life through the first six stanzas and wasted both a bases-loaded, one-out situation and Schoenle’s triple. But in the seventh, Elmwood Park offered a little unintentional assistance.
Following a walk to DeVries, Tyler Edgar was safe when the throw to first on his sacrifice bunt pulled the fielder off the bag. After failing twice to lay down his own bunt, Hill was plunked by a pitch to load the bases. Pat McCarthy’s single came next, and when the Tigers’ left fielder was unable to make a diving grab the ball bounced past him and all three runners crossed the plate to give the Knights a 3-1 triumph.
“If he had tried to keep [the ball] in front of him, we only score one,” Brauer said of Elmwood Park’s unlucky outfielder. “But the kid was trying to make a game-winning play.”
Chicago Christian 14
Thursday’s matchup was a lot like Tuesday’s in that the final margin was deceiving. Although Christian won handily, it did so only by erupting for 10 runs in the seventh.
“It was very misleading in terms of the grind of the game,” Brauer said, referring to the scoring differential. “Prior to this [past] week we had played 30 games and not once had we put up 10 runs in an inning. It’s very uncommon, but then we do it twice in three games.
“In all four games we had one inning that decided it. If you’re going to talk about playoff baseball, that’s usually what it is [like].”
The wind was blowing in on Thursday, so the Knights resorted mostly to singles to get the job done. Hill did slam an RBI triple in the sixth, but he also knocked in a teammate with a groundout. Nine players drove in at least one run for Christian.
Wolterink, who had thrown just 34 pitches on Tuesday, asked for the ball again and supplied the Knights with six innings of three-hit ball spiced with eight whiffs.
Chicago Christian 3
Evergreen Park 0
Vos didn’t ring up as many strikeouts on Saturday, but he was no less in command than Wolterink had been against the Bison. Vos faced only 22 Mustangs and allowed one hit, needing just 69 pitches to up his ledger to 9-2.
“You might have to be a baseball purist to say it because he only had three strikeouts, but that’s about as dominant as it gets,” Brauer said of Vos’ mound outing. “[Evergreen] has some good wins on the schedule, so to go on the road in sloppy weather [and succeed], we were pretty happy with it. It was really fun.”
Christian snapped a scoreless tie in the fourth on DeVries’ double and then tacked on insurance runs in the seventh with Vos’ sacrifice fly and a double steal.
Evergreen Park 12
TF North 2
The Mustangs fared better in some of their other outings last week as they registered three South Suburban Conference crossover wins. The first came at the Meteors’ expense on Tuesday as Will Doran fired a no-hitter with eight strikeouts.
Despite its lack of offense, TF North managed to grab a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the first as it capitalized on two of Doran’s three free passes plus an Evergreen error and wild pitch. After that, however, the Meteors put just three other runners aboard.
The Mustangs inched in front by one in the third and then exploded for five more runs in the fourth to seize command of the contest. Mark Martin’s bases-clearing triple was the most damaging hit, but Mike Rizzo and Sean Miller each picked up an RBI on a single.
That threesome wound up knocking in nine of Evergreen’s 12 runs. Rizzo also had a double in the game.
Evergreen Park 8
Chances are most people figured on the Mustangs defeating TF North; far less certain was Evergreen being able to do the same to the Indians on Wednesday. But that’s what happened, thanks to a rapid getaway.
The Mustangs put up dual three-spots in their first two at-bats despite stroking nothing more than a single during either rally. Miller, Brendan Walsh and Brian Pall all had RBI with their hits in the second, but Evergreen’s initial outburst was sparked by two of Lemont’s three errors. Each supplied the Mustangs with a run.
Evergreen also tallied when Jimmy Segura was hit by a pitch with the bags filled. Martin and Pall chipped in singles to the uprising.
Two more runs in the sixth, resulting from a passed ball and Pall’s two-bagger, seemed little more than cosmetic, but they proved vital when the Indians roared back with five markers in the bottom of that frame. The Mustangs escaped further danger when they fielded a grounder and Pall struck out the next two batters.
Pall and Martin went a combined 6-for-9 at the plate and the former also earned a save after relieving winning pitcher Connor McKeever in the sixth.
Evergreen Park 6
Also falling short of the Mustangs was the Braves on Friday, although 10 stanzas were needed to declare a winner.
And going extra innings wasn’t the only thing that made the loss painful to Bremen. The Braves no doubt rued the fact they squandered the 5-1 lead they held through 4 ½ innings.
Evergreen (15-9, 10-7) made a gradual comeback, using solo tallies in the fifth and sixth to draw closer and then creating a deadlock in the seventh on Miller’s two-out, two-RBI hit. Joe Piet and Harold McClarin scored on the single after getting hits of their own.
The Mustangs’ defense helped them dodge a couple extra-inning bullets. Evergreen forced Bremen to leave the sacks jammed in the eighth and then recorded a twin killing in the 10th with one of the outs being made at home.
Given a lift by that, the Mustangs won in their ensuing plate appearance as Walsh and Dan Kunes both singled and the Braves issued a pair of walks, including one to Ronnie O’Toole that forced in the deciding run. Sacrifice flies by Rizzo and Dan Smith provided two of Evergreen’s earlier markers as did a Walsh groundout.
Martin was the winner in relief.
Oak Forest 3
Evergreen Park 2
The only SSC-related blemish on the Mustangs’ ledger was administered by the Bengals, who made a three-run third inning stand up on Thursday. That rally followed one by Evergreen in the top of the frame.
A double steal was part of the Mustangs’ eruption as were Martin’s double and Pall’s RBI single. Evergreen outhit Oak Forest 5-4.