A league that they own

  • Written by Ken Karrson


A league that they own

Knights claim title in debut MSC season


By Ken Karrson

Sports Editor


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

            Fenton            1

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

            Lemont           6

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

            Bremen           5

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.


SSC Red-letter day

  • Written by Ken Karrson


SSC Red-letter day

Sweep of Spartans assures Astros of crown


By Ken Karrson

Sports Editor


For a baseball coach, all weeks should be like Frank DiFoggio’s was last week.

From a personal standpoint Shepard’s veteran leader reached a milestone. When the Astros defeated Oak Lawn 9-2 last Tuesday, they gave DiFoggio his 300th career victory, although he quickly shrugged off that achievement.

“All it means is I’m getting old and I’ve had good players,” he said. “I tried to keep it       quiet [beforehand]. It’s not a big deal in the whole scheme of things.”

A bigger deal to DiFoggio was what the triumph meant for Shepard in 2015. With it, the Astros moved ahead of the Spartans and into the South Suburban Conference Red penthouse.

And that was only the beginning. Shepard went on to edge Lemont 3-2 in an SSC crossover on the road last Thursday and then met Oak Lawn for a return engagement in Palos Heights on Friday. The Astros prevailed again, although eight innings were required to pocket a 6-5 win.

That latter success gave Shepard 20 victories for the first time in seven years and, better still, assured it of at least a share of the SSC Red crown. Beating Eisenhower either this past Monday or Tuesday would award an outright title to the Astros, whose last conference championship came in 1995 with John Harasen as coach and major-league draftee Craig Taczy as their mound ace.

“Who would have thought it?” DiFoggio said of this year’s title, which materialized largely because of a seven-game unbeaten streak that enabled his club to overcome a 2 ½-game deficit in the span of two weeks.

“This is a special group of guys we have and they’re resilient. The boys did a really nice job. They’ve been able to handle everything that’s been thrown at them.”

That included earlier injuries to Kevin Carmody and Brett Smith, which stripped Shepard (20-7, 14-3) of two of its top hitters plus, in Smith’s case, a starting pitcher. When those occurred, DiFoggio admitted to “thinking we were in trouble.”

Not so, however, and he cited the main difference between his current squad and the numerous conference runner-up teams he has coached.

“The one thing I realized in this is that your stars had to play like stars, but you needed your bench to put you over the hump,” DiFoggio said. “Some of those other teams when we finished second or third, we didn’t have those surprise one or two kids that jump into a spot and run with it. [This season guys] took their opportunities and contributed in a big way.”

One player who might have been overlooked a bit at the beginning but has proved capable is Rob Marinec, whose single and double on Tuesday drove in four of the Astros’ runs. Kyle Longfield collected two RBI with his pair of singles while Mark Albrecht (single) and Kenny Gorski (groundouts) each knocked in one teammate.

That was ample support for Adam Gregory, who silenced the Spartans on four hits. While Oak Lawn coach Bill Gerny was quick to give Gregory his due, he also felt his own players weren’t as up to the task as he had hoped.

“We came out flat,” Gerny said. “[There was] nothing too exciting. We just didn’t have it, which was disappointing because we were at home. It was kind of hard to put your finger on it [in regard to the cause].

“Shepard came out on Tuesday, they got a couple runs in the second [and] once they got that momentum it seemed like they fed off that and built off it. Shepard put the bat on the ball and their two-strike hitting was tremendous -- they were using the whole field.”

The Spartans (16-14, 12-5) did little against Gregory outside of the third inning. That frame featured Oak Lawn garnering its only runs as Liam Blake, Patrick Slattery (RBI) and Joe Dodaro (RBI) all singled.

“The movement on his pitches [was good],” Gerny said of Gregory, who was backed by a defense that turned three double plays. “It was hard to pick up.”

DiFoggio spoke afterward about how there is “something special about that field at Oak Lawn” to him.

“The last game my father saw me coach before he died was there in July 2004,” DiFoggio said. “I vividly remember where he sat. We were making eye contact [because] I could see him from the third-base coach’s box.

“And then in the spring of ’05 we won my first regional there. That place is very memorable for those things.”

And now, of course, something else as well.


Friday’s rematch was more like what one would expect when two contenders go at it. The Spartans got up 3-0 in the top of the second, Shepard countered with five runs between the second and third stanzas, Oak Lawn pulled even in the seventh on Slattery’s homer after Bobby Beard had closed the deficit to one with his sixth-inning double and the Astros finally got the last say when Travis Pruim poked an RBI single.

“I told him, ‘Look for the first outside pitch they give you and throw your hands at it,'" DiFoggio said of Pruim.

John Roberts’ single put the Spartans ahead in the first, but the inning could have been more productive. An incorrect count listed on the scoreboard led an Oak Lawn baserunner to think a walk had been issued and his somewhat leisurely move toward second resulted in a putout.

“You preach all year about attention to detail,” Gerny said. “What seemed like an inconsequential thing turns out to be a bigger deal in a one-run game.”

But when Ivan Georgelos, Boo Quillin (RBI double) and Slattery (RBI double) all hit safely in the second, the Spartans seemed none the worse for wear. DiFoggio, in fact, referred to Slattery as “the one kid that was scaring me to death offensively.”

The Astros bounced back with a game-tying three-spot in their next at-bat with Marinec’s two-run double serving as the critical blow. Shepard’s other marker resulted from an errant relay.

“I firmly believe that changed momentum for a couple innings,” DiFoggio said.

It did as Bobby Peterka stroked a two-run single in the third to hand the Astros their first lead. He doubled in the fifth, but neither that nor Albrecht’s two-out triple in the seventh amounted to anything for Shepard, which nearly proved costly as Oak Lawn fought its way back into a tie.

But Gregory returned in a relief role to hamstring the Spartans in the eighth, something that came as no surprise to one of Gerny’s assistants.

“You think momentum’s on your side [at that point], but Nick Chigas, our pitching coach, said, ‘Home runs are really killers because everyone tries to hit one after that,’” Gerny said. “[The loss] was disappointing because it was one of those things where they took advantage of our mistakes.”

He was referring to the Astros’ portion of the eighth, which started with an Oak Lawn error and was aided by a passed ball that set the table for Pruim.

“I know a lot of guys were disappointed,” Gerny said. “We need a lot of help [for a title share], but we had a good run. I like the makeup of our team and I’m happy how we competed the whole season.”

Gerny said the Spartans’ primary goal of winning the school’s first regional championship remains intact, and he thought Friday’s experience could be a help in that regard.

“There were a lot of people at the game and it was a loud game,” he said. “To get a little taste of that [atmosphere] before the playoffs was a good warm-up act.”

            Shepard          3

            Lemont           2

In between conquests of Oak Lawn, the Astros managed to beat the Indians in an SSC crossover on Thursday. Peterka’s two-strike infield single in the seventh gave Shepard its winning margin.

“It was a very competitive game,” DiFoggio said. “We had baserunners on a lot and we made three key defensive plays to make sure they didn’t score more.”

One of those was a putout at the plate when Lemont tried to tally on a passed ball in the fifth. The Astros also escaped a bases-loaded predicament in the fourth. In the top of that frame, Gregory’s double, Albrecht’s bunt single, Peterka’s sacrifice fly and Ricky Mundo’s RBI single worked in unison to supply Shepard with a pair of runs.

Eric Horbach, who very nearly defeated the Indians a year ago, did it this time by scattering six hits and fanning four.

Before the season DiFoggio had projected that the eventual SSC Red champion might have as many as five league losses. In the case of his own club, he said gaining splits with Richards, Evergreen Park and Oak Lawn and losing to no one in the Blue Division other than Lemont and Oak Forest would give it “a very good shot to win conference.”

Even DiFoggio wasn’t counting on the Astros’ seven-game win streak coming at the expense of the Spartans, Indians and Bengals, among others.

            Oak Lawn      10

            TF South        5

The Spartans made sure Friday’s clash with Shepard still mattered by rallying to top the Rebels Thursday in Lansing. After spotting TF South a 4-2 edge, Oak Lawn plated eight runs over its last three at-bats.

“Our guys really came to life in the later innings,” Gerny said. “We did some lineup shuffling [for this game] because we needed a wake-up call that the team is more important than any individual. We’re all in this together and guys busted their humps.”

That included the trio of Blake, Ryne Melnik and Beard, all of whom delivered RBI hits in the Spartans’ four-run seventh. Both Blake and Melnik belted doubles while Beard knocked in another runner with his sacrifice fly in the sixth.

“The bottom of our lineup woke up and took charge,” Gerny said.

Other RBI people for Oak Lawn were Slattery (fifth-inning triple), Dodaro (fifth-inning single) and Roberts (sacrifice fly in the third, RBI single in the first). The Spartans’ sixth-inning uprising also featured some nifty baserunning as Billy Dunne’s two steals set up a double theft on which he tallied from third.

Chad Cwik, who had fired a two-hitter at the Rebels as a freshman, wasn’t quite as dominant here, but he still went the distance to record a win. He struck out seven and gave up eight hits.

“It was an efficient outing,” Gerny said. “He was just as strong at the end as he was at the beginning.”

Oak Lawn wrapped up its SSC Red slate with two games against Argo. Also on the docket were nonconference tilts with Stagg and Leyden.


Leader of the pack

  • Written by Ken Karrson


Leader of the pack

Spartans now sitting atop SSC Red


By Ken Karrson

Sports Editor

Not all that long ago Oak Lawn could have been described as being behind the 8-ball.

As the current week got underway, however, the Spartans are behind no one in the South Suburban Conference Red.

In the midst of his team’s well-documented early season struggles, Oak Lawn coach Bill Gerny’s wish was that the difficulties would serve as a means for the Spartans to better clear future obstacles. And that wish has definitely been granted.

When Oak Lawn completed a two-game sweep of neighboring Reavis with a 3-1 victory last Tuesday, it did itself a huge favor in terms of positioning within the SSC Red. After Thursday’s 6-2 triumph over Bremen was factored in as well, the Spartans stood at 8-1 in league play and were one ahead of Shepard in the loss column.

The win was Oak Lawn’s 10th in 13 games.

“We’re picking a good time to be playing some very effective baseball,” Gerny said. “Even our kids and our parents were [once] questioning [what was happening] and I didn’t expect this [surge], but I feel like we’ve gotten better every week. Everybody’s playing with such confidence right now.

“Everybody’s kind of picking each other up. It’s exciting to think if we keep improving at the rate we have been what this team can accomplish.”

What the Spartans (11-10, 8-1) accomplished against the Rams was something of a rarity.

“It’s been a while [since we swept them],” Gerny said. “It seems like they always beat us once. They’re so well-coached and they rarely beat themselves. Winning Monday took the pressure off a little bit.”

Oak Lawn notched its 6-4 triumph by withstanding some late noisemaking by Reavis, which trailed 6-1 after four innings on Monday. Matt Witkowski managed to pitch a complete game for the Spartans despite getting reached for seven hits. He fanned nine and walked three.

“He pitched well,” Gerny said of the senior. “His two losses were to Mt. Carmel and Lincoln-Way North, two teams that if you don’t hit your spots every time they’re going to make you pay for every mistake. He’s in that [must-do] mindset now. If he does miss here or there, it’s not the catastrophic results against some of these other teams.”

Oak Lawn gave Witkowski a 3-0 advantage to protect right away as Joe Dodaro slugged a three-run homer in the top of the first. Boo Quillin had singled ahead of him and another batter got plunked by a pitch.

“Quillin and Dodaro have been locked in at the plate the last two weeks,” Gerny said.

Quillin’s triple set up another run in the fourth as he crossed the plate on Patrick Slattery’s single. Before that occurred, the Spartans picked up a couple third-inning markers on Ivan Georgelos’ groundout and a Rams error.


When his club struck for another three-spot in its initial at-bat on Tuesday, Gerny was expecting more fireworks.

“It felt like we were going to score 10 runs,” he said.

Andrew Padilla saw to it that didn’t happen. The Reavis pitcher settled down after his shaky start and held the Spartans at bay the rest of the way.

“We beat it into the ground a lot, hit into a double play once and were caught stealing,” Gerny said.

Luckily for Oak Lawn, Chad Cwik was equal to the task before him. The Spartans’ sophomore hurler struck out five and allowed two hits over six stanzas, but five walks helped raise his pitch count to 90 and caused Gerny to summon Yunis Halim, who whiffed two in a quiet seventh inning.

The bases-on-balls created some “high-stress innings” according to Gerny, but he still felt Cwik performed well.

“You take away those five walks, it was a spectacular outing,” Gerny said.

John Roberts’ double and Georgelos’ two-RBI single accounted for Oak Lawn’s scoring. Roberts went 3-for-3 in the game.

            Oak Lawn      6

            Bremen           2

Quillin, Slattery and Roberts were a combined 11-for-12 on Thursday, a display that carried the Spartans to their eighth SSC victory. Oak Lawn won just 10 of its 19 conference contests a year ago and only 13 times overall.

In addition to his batting, Quillin tossed a four-hitter with eight strikeouts and one walk. He has surrendered only one earned run in 15 innings as a starter thus far and gives Gerny “a really nice problem to have” in terms of having three pitchers who instill confidence in their coach.

Spartans assistant coach Tim Lyons had mentioned beforehand this encounter had “the feel of a trap game” since the Braves are not a big rival for Oak Lawn, but hits by Quillin, Slattery (double) and Roberts (RBI double) plus Dodaro’s run-producing groundout gave the Spartans a lead they would not relinquish.

Singles from Liam Blake, Roberts (two RBI) and Quillin provided the remainder of Oak Lawn’s tallies. Roberts’ hit was made meaningful by Dodaro, who sacrificed two men into scoring position.

“Dodaro’s one of our hottest hitters and he’s been an RBI machine, but he wanted to lay down that bunt,” Gerny said. “That shows our guys are starting to see the bigger picture. If we’re going to win [tight games], our bunting has to [continue to] improve.”

            Willowbrook  14

            Oak Lawn      4

The week ended on a sour note as the Spartans were unable to hold a 4-1 edge and dropped a verdict to the Warriors on Friday. Willowbrook scored all but one of its runs between the fourth and sixth frames.

“We have to do a better job of taking care of teams we don’t have a personal grudge against,” Gerny said. “They really did put a hurt on us. That team could just flat-out hit.”

Oak Lawn managed only six hits of its own, none of which factored into the scoring. Garnering RBI were Quillin (bases-loaded walk), Slattery (sacrifice fly) and Roberts (groundout). Halim absorbed the pitching defeat.


Making the grade -- and then some

  • Written by Ken Karrson




Making the grade -- and then some

Shepard’s Martinez not too busy to earn spot on state all-academic team

By Bob Roubik


            The term “student-athlete” too often is a misnomer.

            While the student part always gets mentioned first, reality frequently differs. Sports not only becomes an individual’s primary identity, it also supersedes all else.

            That’s fine if it prevents an athlete from engaging in improper behavior, but what about those times when games overshadow grades?

            Nicholas Martinez wouldn’t know about that. While many who know his name might initially think of Martinez as a tennis player at Shepard, that represents only a piece of his high school existence -- and definitely not the largest one.

            Academics are more than an intrusion into Martinez’s daily life. They are a necessary challenge to conquer, something he had done in impressive fashion.

            Martinez was one of 26 student-athletes across Illinois to be chosen for the IHSA All-Academic team. Ranked sixth in a class of 444 students at Shepard, Martinez boasts a 5.16 grade-point average on a 4.0 scale thanks to a number of advanced-placement courses and scored a 33 on his ACT. He has received honors with distinction for all seven of his semesters in high school.

“We’ve never had someone on the all-academic team before,” Astros tennis coach Dmitri Cooper said. “It really is a tremendous honor and it shows his strength of character (and) how involved and dependable he is.”

He’s quite busy too. As if maintaining such a lofty GPA and competing in a varsity sports weren’t enough to keep Martinez occupied, there’s more -- much more.

He’s also a member of the National Honor Society and Shepard’s speech team, participates in mathletes, is a peer mentor, an ambassador for the school’s service club and the student-body president.

“It can be overwhelming, but I think that I am one of those people [who needs to stay busy],” Martinez said. “My whole family is definitely that type of people.

“I grew up on a very rigorous schedule. My oldest brother is a hockey player, so I grew up going to school, getting in the car, driving hours to go to hockey tournaments, eating on the road and getting home super late. It’s no surprise that's the way I turned out.”

Martinez’s involvement with mathletes isn’t too great a surprise, seeing as how he wants to study that as a student at Notre Dame next year and use it as a means by which to enter the business world upon college graduation.

“Math has always been my favorite [subject],” Martinez said. “Ever since I was little my parents would be doing flash cards with me on the road, in the bathtub, everywhere.”

No wonder that Martinez can be found writing scores in Cooper’s book when not involved in a match. But Martinez doesn’t shortchange any of his other activities either.

“If he’s not practicing that day, he’s encouraging others to practice,” speech coach Jeff Vazzana said of Martinez. “He’s getting involved, he’s making sure people are memorizing, he’s making sure that everybody knows the schedule for the next week. He’s very, very dependable.

“He’s the kid that as he’s leaving you say, ‘Can you make sure everyone is here on the bus at 6:15 in the morning?’ And if he needs to he’ll call everybody that morning and get it done.”

Martinez’s main speech event is humorous interpretation.

“It's a very different category within speech,” he said. “Basically, you have a story with multiple characters, a humorous story. You play all those characters and you have different voices, different facial expressions, different ways that you hold yourself to distinguish these characters and people who aren’t familiar with speech tend not to understand right away because it's very, very different.”

            “Speech is similar to how track works -- there's multiple events where your team is competing to points overall,” said Vazzana, who coaches 130 kids in speech. “Nick is in one of the events. How he performs gives a certain amount of points for the whole team.

“Shepard was consistently the best team in the state this season. We didn’t do as well in the IHSA state series, but in terms of the preliminary tournaments throughout the year we consistently won tournaments and Nick was consistently in the top of what we call making it into final rounds. There could be 75 or 100 kids performing in his event and he’d be in the top six.”

Vazzana has seen Martinez in action in the classroom too, having taught him in honors English when Martinez was a freshman and AP language in the latter’s junior year. Vazzana said Martinez’s selection to the National Honor Society, which requires community- and school-oriented service work in addition to good grades, was pretty much a no-brainer.

There’s a committee that decides who has exceptional scholarship and character within the school and they can accept or deny the students,” Vazzana said. “Nick was an easy decision because of his exceptional character.”

Cooper has never had the opportunity to instruct Martinez, at least in a standard setting. There has been teaching done on the courts, however, but that was left entirely up to Cooper.

Martinez was introduced to tennis at age 8 and began taking lessons a couple years after that. His older brother played for Cooper and Martinez followed suit as a four-year varsity member.

“I just really like the game because it allows me to be competitive,” Martinez said. “I don’t get to express too much of that in my acting side of the spectrum. I get my physical energy out I guess.”

Besides playing at No. 3 doubles for the Astros, Martinez provides them with a number of intangibles.

“He gets all the kids uplifted and inspired,” Cooper said. “He’s always there to [help] make sure things run smoothly. He’s one of the players on my team that always steps up and just wants to be in that leader role. He’s just a super kid.

“Nick is one of those kids that I hope when he graduates he contacts us and lets us know how he's doing because when he leaves there's going to be a ‘Nick-shaped’ hole in the wall because he's made such an impression on this school,” Vazzana said. “When he leaves, the school won’t be the same. I want to know how he's doing because he's impacted us just as much as we've impacted him.”


Spartans in the driver's seat

  • Written by Ken Karrson


Spartans in the driver’s seat

Their SSC Red lead grows after more wins


By Ken Karrson

Sports Editor


            Hertz didn’t need to put Oak Lawn in the driver’s seat. The Spartans did it themselves.

            What placed Oak Lawn in control of the South Suburban Conference Red race was a continuation of its recent play. The Spartans have hit only minor bumps over the past few weeks and Evergreen Park was unable to alter that trend last week.

            Oh, the Mustangs certainly tried, particularly in the opener of a two-game series on Monday. Senior Brian Pall, fresh off a dominating performance versus Shepard in which he struck out 15 and allowed only a bunt single, was strong again as he limited Oak Lawn to four hits while fanning eight.

            “It seemed like his curveball got sharper as the game went along,” Spartans coach Bill Gerny said. “After starting at our knees, it was biting right into the dirt and it was tough for our guys to lay off that. We swung at a lot of bad pitches.

            “Nothing was going our way offensively. The way we were swinging the bats, we were fortunate to get that last run off him.”

            But that was the one making the difference for Oak Lawn, which stayed in the hunt thanks to a masterful exhibition by its own hurler, Matt Witkowski. Witkowski was nicked for a run in the first but no others, so when the Spartans capitalized on an Evergreen error in the sixth to scratch out a score, they were able to bag a hard-fought 2-1 triumph.

            And with that one in its possession, Oak Lawn finished off the Mustangs with far less difficulty on Tuesday as it captured a 9-0 victory. With a 10-0 rout of TF North in a Thursday crossover also factored in, the Spartans entered the current week with just one loss in 12 SSC encounters and, more importantly, a 2 ½-game advantage over second-place Shepard.

            “Our guys are playing looser and more relaxed,” Gerny said. “We haven’t had this hot a start [in conference play] since I’ve been here.”

            And Gerny didn’t want to risk anything by taking struggling TF North for granted. Instead of letting pitcher Chad Cwik be used in a lower-level meeting with Evergreen, Gerny put the sophomore on the hill versus the Meteors varsity, where Cwik delivered three innings of one-hit, four-strikeout ball.

            “We didn’t want to have a 5-3 win over them, where guys are starting to doubt themselves a little bit,” Gerny said. “They’re playing with so much confidence [that] we want to keep it rolling into the tougher part of our schedule. If our guys take their foot off the gas even a little bit, we could be down 4-0 right away.”

            Gerny wasn’t referring to TF North with that statement, but to the Mustangs, who were obviously seeking to make amends for Monday’s gut-wrenching setback with a winning performance the next day. But with their coach’s reminder that another success against Evergreen could pretty much remove the latter from SSC Red title contention ringing in their ears, the Spartans didn’t give the Mustangs a chance to gain their footing.

            Instead, Oak Lawn piled up six second-inning runs to seize command of the proceedings. No. 9 hitter Yunis Halim’s check-swing RBI single signaled the start of the Spartans’ rally and Boo Quillin knocked in two more teammates with his hit. Other RBI men in the frame were Joe Dodaro (single), Liam Blake (single) and Patrick Slattery (groundout).

            “Our guys aren’t hitting home runs, but everybody’s making real solid contact and having good at-bats,” Gerny said. “Our guys came out with a lot of energy.”

            By Gerny’s estimation, Quillin didn’t have “his best stuff” on the mound, but the latter still was good enough to hamstring the Mustangs in several key instances. Quillin, who struck out seven while scattering seven hits, turned Evergreen away three times after it had loaded the bases.

            “[If] we get a couple runs there in any of those innings, it changes the momentum,” Mustangs coach Mark Smyth said. “We’re not swinging the bats [well] right now so we’re not going to catch anyone from behind.”

            The one inning Smyth particularly rued was the fourth. Evergreen had filled the sacks with less than two outs, but Quillin slipped a called third strike past the Mustangs’ No. 9 batter and then retired dangerous Mark Martin on a fly ball.

            “We’ll take that [scenario] any day of the week,” Smyth said, referring to Martin’s presence at the plate then.”

            Martin garnered hits on two other occasions and matched Mike Rizzo for the team lead. Quillin and John Roberts both stroked three hits to pace Oak Lawn (14-10, 11-1), which totaled 13 to go along with eight walks. Roberts and Dodaro both had later RBI for the Spartans.

            “We still felt that even if we got one [win], we could be in the [divisional] race,” Smyth said. “Now we need a lot of help.”


            Monday’s clash wasn’t resolved until the sixth as Ivan Georgelos’ sacrifice fly for Oak Lawn and Sean Miller’s double for Evergreen represented the only scoring prior to that.

            “It was a great ballgame, but both [of the Spartans’] runs could have been prevented,” Smyth said. “We could not support [Pall] with enough offense. Witkowski threw a couple nice changeups [to us].”

            “He’s developed a changeup that’s been working and locating his pitches real well,” Gerny said of his senior mound man. “He’s been lights out.

“You thought one of us was [eventually] going to score a run we didn’t deserve. That first game [against the Mustangs] gave us momentum going into the second game.”

            Witkowski went the distance on 92 pitches to pocket his fifth win in seven tries. All of the victories have come in succession even though he is regularly squaring off with the opposition’s top hurler.

                        Oak Lawn      10

                        TF North        0

            It took the Spartans just a couple innings on Thursday to bury the Meteors in a deep hole. Five runs in the second gave Oak Lawn a 6-0 lead and Cwik took it from there.

            Quillin went 4-for-4 with a double, three runs and two RBI to lead the Spartans’ onslaught. Roberts and Georgelos both added two hits, Dodaro drove in three runs and five players in all were credited with at least one RBI.

            The Spartans’ only encounters this week were against SSC Blue heavyweights Oak Forest and Lemont. Earning success against that duo might make Gerny believe his club has cleared another hurdle.

            “We’re having a real nice season, but we haven’t beaten any of the established [powerhouse] programs yet,” he said.

                        Evergreen Park         24

                        Hillcrest          0

            The beleaguered Hawks popped up at a good time on the Mustangs’ schedule as Evergreen (10-6, 4-5) felt much better after taking out some of its frustration in Thursday’s SSC crossover.

            Eleven Mustangs had hits, a group paced by Miller, who totaled three hits, four RBI and four runs. One of his safeties went for two bases. Other multiple-hit performers included Martin (double, triple, four runs, two RBI), Ronnie O’Toole (double, triple, three RBI), Will Doran (two hits, two RBI, three runs), Rizzo (two hits, two RBI, two runs) and Joe Piet (two doubles, two RBI, one run).

            Jimmy Segura logged his first pitching triumph by firing a three-hitter, striking out 10 and walking only one.

            In its last outing of the week, Evergreen pummeled Urban Prep with a 12-run first inning and went on to claim a 12-0 win.