Written by Ken Karrson
Three local teams find success outside Illinois during spring break
By Ken Karrson
Many college kids make Florida a spring-break destination.
High school baseball players from Marist, St. Laurence and Brother Rice also took road trips last week as school wasn’t in session following the Easter holiday. But instead of the Sunshine State, those athletes ventured elsewhere.
The RedHawks went to Myrtle Beach, S.C., the Vikings traveled to southern California and the Crusaders journeyed to Louisville, Ky. In addition to getting the chance to play several games, each team’s coach liked the intangibles associated with the excursion.
“It’s not all about the games,” Marist boss Kevin Sefcik said. “It’s the stuff you do along the way. I made sure I gave them their [free] time. We had a hotel right on the water and the kids stayed out of trouble.
“It was everything I could have asked for. It was a great trip.”
Making it even more so were five straight wins at the Mingo Bay Classic, where the RedHawks (7-1) were one of 28 clubs playing in the Class A division. They did not claim a championship but did wind up among the top eight finishers and received a plaque.
Neither St. Laurence nor Rice went unbeaten in its respective tournament, but the out-of-town experience was deemed equally satisfying by both programs.
“One of the more important benefits is the team building and camaraderie,” said Vikings coach Pete Lotus, whose squad was making its sixth consecutive spring trip but its first to California.
“Just being away is good and it seems guys were really looking forward to it.”
Crusaders leader John McCarthy echoed similar sentiments.
“The team-building part was huge,” he said. “I applaud coaches who do it because it’s a very rewarding experience. You remember some of the baseball stuff, but there is going to be a lifetime of memories from this trip.”
Sefcik admitted he "knew nothing about” the RedHawks’ foes in South Carolina before the tourney got underway, although he discovered later the “competition wasn’t world beaters.” Nevertheless, Sefcik still felt Marist played well overall.
And the outcomes proved it. The RedHawks capped their week with perhaps their finest performance to date as they shut out Waccamaw (S.C.) 10-0 behind Rich Kairis, who struck out five and walked one over four innings. For good measure the pitcher also contributed as a hitter as he went 4-for-4 with two runs scored.
Producing multiple-hit efforts as well were Jack Snyder (two hits, two RBI), Tyler Haizel (two hits, two runs, one RBI) and Jake Powers (two hits, one RBI). John Carmody doubled and knocked in a pair of runs while Brian Wood also finished with a hit and two RBI.
“They responded by making sure they were ready,” Sefcik said, referring to his players’ week-long approach to their activities. “We did everything well -- played good defense, ran the bases, pitched. [And] offensively we got way better.
“Once the season starts in baseball, practice stinks. You take [batting practice] before every game, so what do you work on? When you get to play every day, it’s awesome [because] it’s difficult trying to hit when you play one day, then you’re off for two or more.”
Sefcik thought Waccamaw wasn’t too bad a team. The fact Marist rolled over it led him to one conclusion.
“It just goes to show you baseball up here [in Illinois] is really good,” Sefcik said.
Helping to reinforce that idea was St. Rita, which also took part in the Myrtle Beach event. The Mustangs captured the overall championship.
Before whitewashing Waccamaw, the RedHawks defeated Lake City (8-2), Cherry Hill East, N.J. (13-7), Cherokee N.J. (7-4) and Hammonton N.J. (7-4). The triumph over Cherokee was realized after Marist expunged an early 4-1 deficit.
“We stayed with it and just kept battling back,” Sefcik said. “I didn’t really know what to expect [from my players before the season] because I didn’t coach them last summer, but [comebacks have] happened twice already. We also did it against De La Salle.
“You can tell them anything you want, but it’s important that kids see [positive] results from what they’re doing.”
Snyder picked up the pitching win after throwing 5 1/3 stanzas of three-hit relief with five strikeouts. Keying the offense was Powers, who went 3-for-4 with two RBI.
Also involved were Zach Sefcik, Haizel and Kairis, all of whom stroked two hits. The younger Sefcik included a double among his and scored twice, Haizel tallied once and Kairis drove in a run.
Pat Meehan notched Friday’s victory over Hammonton by working five innings on the mound and fanning seven. Kairis was credited with a save and also matched Haizel by going 3-for-4 at the plate.
Between them the two players accounted for six of the RedHawks’ runs, five of which they scored themselves. Kairis also had an RBI. Carmody registered three RBI while hitting safely once.
Kairis was the pitcher of record against Lake City last Monday as he held it to two hits over five innings. Carmody (two doubles, three RBI) and Wood (two hits, two RBI) were the principal figures on offense.
Grant Kenny (3-for-3 with a double, four runs, two RBI) and Kairis (two hits, including a double, three RBI) paved the way for Marist’s high-scoring win over Cherry Hills East.
Along with beginning East Suburban Catholic Conference play Saturday against Notre Dame, the RedHawks’ schedule this week featured matchups with once-defeated Sandburg and always-tough Mt. Carmel.
The Vikings may be veterans when it comes to spring journeys, but their inaugural trip to California presented them with a couple of surprises, one being that a double-digit lead doesn’t automatically trigger a premature stoppage in play.
“We didn’t figure that out until the fourth inning [on Tuesday],” said Lotus, whose team hit Desert Christian with back-to-back five-spots to begin the contest. “We didn’t know there wasn’t a 10-run rule.”
He and St. Laurence also didn’t realize the Don Lugo Tournament would be played on four different high school fields rather than a centralized college or municipal-park site.
“That part I wasn’t too crazy about,” Lotus said. “We knew where our first game was [scheduled], but it was pretty random after that.”
Despite the oddities the Vikings (8-2) managed to go 3-1 and secure third place for themselves. After downing Desert Christian 14-5, things got tighter as St. Laurence slipped past Capistrano Valley 5-2 and lost 2-1 to San Dimas. Relegated to the third-place contest by that setback, the Vikings made the most of it by beating Linfield Christian 6-1.
The final encounter showed St. Laurence in peak offensive form as it smacked 10 hits and stole eight bases. Rich Lamb, Frank Greco and Nick Verta each swiped two bags, and the latter duo also collected three RBI between them. One of Verta’s came on a double.
Tommy Farrell (two hits, one RBI), Dan Cummings (two hits), Anthony Chimera (RBI single) and Zach Erdman were other notables for the Vikings, who scored twice in the first to establish an edge that was never lost. In addition to garnering an RBI, Erdman was the winning pitcher as he tossed three innings of hitless relief.
The middle two games represented the sternest tests for St. Laurence. Lotus felt his guys “played one of our best games we’ve played this year” versus Capistrano Valley on Wednesday.
Certainly, Jimmy Burnette did his part as he allowed one hit through five frames while fanning seven. He was backed by good defense too as the Vikes’ lone hiccup was a first-inning error that got overshadowed by two ensuing double plays.
Capistrano Valley did go in front because of that St. Laurence miscue, but the locals bounced back with two runs in the second on Mike Finger’s double. He went deep in the sixth to highlight another two-run eruption, which also featured Chimera’s RBI single.
Anthony Rios provided the Vikings’ other RBI with his third-inning hit.
“They were a good team and it was a different kind of game,” Lotus said. “For the most part we’ve been ahead by a lot, so it was nice to see us in that [competitive] situation. That’s going to be more of the norm going forward instead of the other way.”
San Dimas was 20-0 entering Thursday’s clash with St. Laurence and considered one of the top programs in California, and while it got the better of the Vikings Lotus was satisfied overall. The only real trouble spot, in his opinion, was St. Laurence’s nine strikeouts.
Usually adept at putting bat on ball, the Vikings' high number of whiffs was the second such occurrence for them this spring. Lincoln-Way Central defeated St. Laurence earlier by fanning 10 batters.
“It’s a little concerning for us as coaches when we strike out nine and 10 times,” Lotus said. “I was very happy with how we played defensively and obviously the way Frank [Greco] pitched, but we have to do a better job of getting guys on base. We were not putting the ball in play and didn’t have a tremendous amount of opportunities to score.
“You can’t expect guys to [always] pitch like Frank did -- that’s difficult to do. He was outstanding and he deserved better.”
Greco was nicked for eight hits and walked two but never let San Dimas batters string much together. The California-based club did score once in the second inning, but a diving stop by Verta led to a putout at the plate and kept the two teams tied. The Vikings had tallied in the top of that same inning on an overthrow.
Their only other real scoring chance was in the fifth when they put a man on third with one out. However, the would-be rally died on a groundout and popout. San Dimas then pushed across the deciding marker in its half of the seventh.
“In terms of the teams [we played], it was pretty comparable to the other [spring-break] tournaments we’ve been in,” Lotus said.
Lotus was happily surprised by St. Laurence’s rapid getaway against Desert Christian, seeing as how the game got underway at 9:30 a.m. on Tuesday. The Vikings had arrived in southern California late Monday afternoon.
“You never know after a flight [how things will be],” Lotus said.
In case St. Laurence needed an adjustment period, Desert Christian unintentionally offered it by handing the Vikings all of their first-inning runs without benefit of a base hit. St. Laurence received four free passes, had two batters get hit by pitches and lifted a pair of sacrifice flies.
Chalking up RBI were Verta, Rios, Greco, Jimmy Burnette, Sean Burnette and Kevin Aderman.
“It was definitely weird,” said Lotus, who couldn’t recall ever scoring that many times without at least one hit as part of the rally.
Greco (two-run double), Aderman (sacrifice fly) and Jimmy Burnette (RBI single) also struck during the Vikings’ second-inning outbreak. Two errors and a base-on-balls were factored into the uprising as well.
Both Burnettes added RBI singles later on, as did Joe Madera, and Farrell had a sacrifice fly. St. Laurence stroked only eight hits but had 21 baserunners.
The Vikings began Chicago Catholic League crossover play this week.
Like their Catholic League counterparts, the Crusaders posted a 3-1 ledger away from home. It could have easily been a break-even venture, but Rice (11-3) staved off defeat last Tuesday in rather stunning fashion.
Matched up against a St. Xavier team ranked No. 3 in the state of Kentucky and No. 48 nationally, the Crusaders found themselves trailing 2-0 after six innings. Having mustered just two hits to that point, a comeback seemed a bit of a long shot.
But it was not impossible. Down to its last strike, Rice got a reprieve when Max Hughes singled. That came on the heels of two strikeouts, which had been preceded in the stanza by hits from Ryan King and Jake Ridgway.
Michael Massey and Danny Paluch both coaxed walks after Hughes’ hit, which lifted the Crusaders into a tie. Andrew Dyke then beat out an infield single on a ball that deflected off the pitcher’s glove to push his team in front.
Sophomore Jack Guzek saved the unexpected victory for starting pitcher Ryan Kutt. The two hurlers scattered five hits and struck out that same number of batters.
“In a new environment our guys were uncomfortable, but they had to rally together,” McCarthy said. “They gave it their very best all week and it was definitely a wonderful trip [because of that].
“We knew what we were getting into [with this tournament] -- we scheduled it for a reason. I honestly didn’t know if we were going to win a game, but the [main] goal was to try to come back as a [tight-knit] team. It was good to get to know each other better.
“I was very, very pleased with the week. It was so much fun.”
Rice’s tourney opener was far less drama-filled, even though the Crusaders squared off against Eastern High School, another solid Kentucky program. Three runs in the second frame got Rice off and running to a 10-0 victory last Monday.
Mike Schalasky was the Crusaders’ hitting hero as he went 4-for-4 with two homers, a double and five RBI. Joe Preusser (two hits, one RBI), Massey (triple, RBI), Hughes (hit, RBI) and Kutt (hit, RBI) also chipped in to a 13-hit attack.
“Schalasky’s been absolutely fantastic,” McCarthy said. “He worked really, really hard in the offseason. That doesn’t guarantee anything -- sometimes you work your tail off and do everything you’re supposed to and don’t get rewarded for it -- but it’s worked out for him. We’re excited for him and obviously it helps out our team.”
Tom Przekwas notched his first pitching win after scattering eight hits over six innings.
Christian Academy snapped a 4-all deadlock with a fifth-inning homer and that proved the difference last Wednesday as Rice got tagged with a 5-4 setback. The round-tripper was one of only two hits reliever Pat Smith surrendered in a 4 2/3-inning stint.
The Crusaders outhit Christian Academy 7-5. Massey and Schalasky evenly split four of the hits between them, one of the former’s going for two bases. He also scored once and knocked in a run.
Ridgway had Rice’s other RBI.
The Crusaders rebounded on Friday to get by Ballard 5-3 as Schalasky threw a five-hitter for six innings while raising his pitching ledger to 3-0. He whiffed four and walked just one.
Schalasky worked with a lead the entire day, thanks to doubles from Hughes and Dyke (RBI) that handed Rice a 1-0 advantage in the opening stanza. Massey’s double chased in two runs one inning later.
Ridgway’s sacrifice fly and a Ballard error delivered the remaining two tallies. Guzek earned his second save of the week by pitching a basically uneventful seventh.
“He’s a steady player, a guy that doesn’t let outside things bother him,” McCarthy said of Guzek, who is only a sophomore. “Having somebody at the back end of the bullpen you can count on is huge.”
McCarthy expressed his appreciation to parents and alumni who made the Crusaders’ trip possible and said his guys are better off because of it.
“We always want to challenge ourselves on the field,” he said. “We were able to get a lot of guys [playing] time and we feel like we’re prepared going into the Catholic League season.”
Instead of resting upon their return home, the Crusaders got back into action versus Andrew on Saturday. They were not at their best, however, as evidenced by the 10 free passes issued to the Thunderbolts, which helped the latter gain an 8-5 win.
Schalasky was 3-for-4 and five players had RBI, but that got offset by Andrew’s trio of Tom Bushnell, Mike Carey and Ramon Padilla, each of whom drove in two runs. Bushnell also pocketed the pitching triumph