Norwegian good

  • Written by Ken Karrson




Norwegian good

Shepard grad Kissel enjoying productive hockey life in Europe


By Ken Karrson

Sports Editor

            Dan Kissel certainly wasn’t the first Shepard student to envision having athletic success at the professional level.

            He may be the only one, however, who eventually found it without ever laying a foundation with the Astros.

            Kissel’s sport is hockey, and since Shepard has never fielded a team the Oak Lawn native was forced to seek out other avenues. Playing junior hockey with Team Illinois and Mission AAA did enough to get Kissel noticed by Notre Dame, which included him on its roster for four seasons in the mid-2000s.

            A solid collegiate career would satisfy many individuals and arm them with enough competition-related tales to entertain friends and family for years. But when Kissel left the Fighting Irish, his desire to fight for more didn’t leave with him.

            He continued to compete in the United States and East Coast hockey leagues, plying his trade with teams such as the Chicago Steel, Bakersfield Condors, Alaska Aces and Gwinnet Gladiators. Kissel advanced as far as the American Hockey League, one step below the NHL.

            But his stay with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, a feeder team for the New York Islanders, lasted just two games. Again it appeared as if the end of the line had been reached -- and again that assumption was incorrect.

            Next stop: Norway. Beginning in 2012-13 Kissel suited up for the Stavanger Oilers, and he has done more than merely fill a roster spot. He has been the scoring leader each of the past two seasons for a team that has captured five straight Norwegian championships at the country's highest level of play.

            So how does a guy once residing full time in Crestwood become a big deal overseas?

            “My path to playing professionally in Norway came about from a recommendation from a teammate I played with at the University of Notre Dame,” Kissel said in an email. “He played with the Stavanger Oilers the year previous and unfortunately suffered a career-ending injury. Knowing the team would need a spot to fill, he gave me a call.

“I was playing in the East Coast Hockey League at the time. The ECHL is considered AA professional hockey in the states and is basically the league in which you try and make an impact to get called up. That year, in 2012, I had the opportunity to play for the Bridgeport Sound Tigers.

“It was a short call-up, [what] we like to call a 'cup of coffee,' but nonetheless [it] gave me hope. When I got sent back down to Alaska [in the ECHL], I actually had a fortunate season and was second in the league in goals. It never did lead to another call-up, though, and hearing about how much more money there is to be made in Europe I ended up taking my buddies’ advice and went to Norway the next season.”

Kissel had never been to Europe prior to joining the Oilers.

“Getting the opportunity to soak it all in for eight months, and then having the opportunity to be on a championship team that season was a moment that won’t be forgotten,” he said. “[But] living in Norway doesn’t compare to living in Chicago. Everything from the cuisine to social outings is different.

“It’s a lot smaller and everything is only 10 [or] 15 minutes away. There’s no running around and everything opens at 8:30 [a.m.] and closes at 3:30 [p.m.] -- no later. The weather is a bit colder, but where I live, which is the west coast of Norway, it’s pretty much like Seattle -- real wet.

“I love the laid-back feel here, and rain or shine people are really active. They love cross-country skiing and boating [so] when a nice day does come around the whole town is out. It reminds me a lot of downtown Chicago [where] a lot of people seem to come out of the woodwork.”

That doesn’t mean Kissel has lost touch with his local surroundings or is ready to completely uproot himself from the U.S. One thing he jokingly says keeps him coming back is the food.

“There’s no such thing as Chicago pizza and beef sandwiches over there,” he said. “So each summer that’s the first thing I eat when I get back home.”

And even though he didn’t cut his hockey teeth at Shepard, Kissel will always have fond recollections of his time spent there.

“My favorite memories of Shepard are [of] family and friends,” he said. “No matter where you are in the world, if you get to experience whatever it is alongside family and friends it makes it that much better.

“A lot of the friends I had at Shepard remain close to me to this day. We always run into each other over the summer and high school stories always arise. Whether it’s about the great faculty we had or the sporting events that led us down to Springfield every year to watch the cheerleading team, we had a blast and achieved a lot of great moments.”

Editor’s note: Information for this story was gathered by Dan Ludwig and supplied by Bob McParland


From real estate to his real love

  • Written by Ken Karrson





From real estate to his real love

After a year away from basketball, Frasor comes back as Rice’s coach


By Ken Karrson

Sports Editor

Commercial real estate can’t compare to a courtside seat.

That’s the conclusion Bobby Frasor arrived at when he chose to pursue the vacant head-coaching position at his high school alma mater. One year away from basketball was all the Brother Rice graduate needed to reaffirm his love for the sport and opt for a career shift.

And the Rice administration helped solidify his decision by interviewing Frasor and then selecting him as the man to guide the Crusaders varsity hoops program next season. Frasor follows another alumnus, Rick Harrigan, who left the post after two seasons.

“I’m excited,” Frasor said in a telephone interview. “I was interested in this opportunity when it became available and I decided to take a run at it. It’s really something special coming back to Brother Rice.

“Just to be back in Chicago [is great]. I’ve got a passion for the city and I think the best high school basketball is played in [the] Chicago [area].”

Frasor, the son of former Eisenhower coach Bob Frasor, made his own mark in the local prep game and departed Rice as one of its most storied hoops performers. After getting named to the McDonald’s All-America team at the end of his senior year, Frasor moved on to the University of North Carolina where he played for Roy Williams and was a member of the Tar Heels' 2009 national championship squad.

With his father, Williams and former Crusaders boss Pat Richardson as mentors, Frasor feels he has a wealth of coaching sources from which to draw.

“It’s a huge advantage [to me] seeing how detailed they were, their organizational skills, how they motivate players and run practices,” he said. “Coach Richardson had a great offensive mind and was maniacal in scouting and Coach Williams was an unbelievable motivator. He’s been called overrated by some because of the talent he has around him, but it takes a lot of skill to be that successful for so long.”

Williams appointed Frasor to his staff after the latter spent one year playing professionally overseas. He was an assistant video coordinator and then moved on to the University of Alabama-Birmingham to serve as its director of basketball operations where he was in charge “of stuff I didn’t really enjoy doing.”

While Frasor had an urge to get into coaching, he was prohibited by NCAA rules of having contact with athletes. His ultimate desire was to get “a chance to have my fingerprints on a program.”

But before that happened he chose to exit the athletic world and enter the corporate one as an employee for a real estate firm in Raleigh, N.C. Frasor obtained the job through networking and was grateful for it, but it didn’t satisfy him any more fully than his previous basketball post.

Basketball, though, understandably remained in his blood. Frasor said that even if the Rice position hadn’t opened up, he was giving strong consideration to returning to the area, saying he “followed those [coaching] movements every March.”

Being able to fulfill a dream he’s had for a long time at a place he once called home for four years simply made the decision a slam dunk.

“We have a young group of guys that are talented, and to be a mentor and role model for them is pretty cool,” Frasor said. “It’s been 10 years since I’ve been in a high school setting, but I do have an idea of what they go through.

“I know they have goals and dreams and when finals week is coming up how tough it is keep everything balanced. They’re [probably] going to be a little more open to having me around because they’ll be able to relate to me a little easier than they would to someone with gray hair who’s much older [than them].”

Of course, that doesn’t mean Frasor will be opposed to picking the brains of those who are older than he -- his father has already given Frasor “his two cents on high school parents.” And how willing will those parents and a Crusaders fan base spoiled by Richardson’s success that spanned nearly a quarter century be to grant Frasor a proper breaking-in period?

That remains to be seen, but he says he wouldn’t want to be coming in with lowered expectations.

“You’d much rather have [to reach high] than say, ‘Let’s play the underdog role every game,’” Frasor said. “It’s fun to have talent. Coach Richardson built a very well-respected program people probably felt overachieved a lot of the time, but that’s a dream of mine to get it back to that level.

“This is a highly coveted job and it gets my juices going knowing I’m the one that’s responsible for doing the planning and preparing. I’m thankful for it.”

Among those players scheduled to return in the fall to play for Frasor are all-area selection Mike Shepski, honorable mention Jake Kosakowski, Josh Niego and Morgan Taylor, all of whom have at least two years of eligibility remaining.


It's odd that they're even

  • Written by Ken Karrson


It’s odd that they’re even

Crusaders, Vikings trade one-run victories


By Ken Karrson

Sports Editor


Playing on even terms is not all that shocking when two Chicago Catholic League Blue teams square off against one another.

So that part of last week’s series between Brother Rice and St. Laurence likely caught no one off guard. What made the split eye-opening was the fact the two contests were almost identical, right down to the 1-0 final scores that favored the Vikings on Wednesday and the Crusaders three days later.

“It’s sort of crazy for sure,” St. Laurence coach Pete Lotus said. “I don’t know how many we’ve had in [my] 10 years [here] but definitely not two 1-0 games in the same season, let alone the same week. In high school baseball that’s not so common.

“It speaks to the parity in the league. That’s what makes it so interesting and fun.”

Lotus got no argument about any of his observations from coaching counterpart John McCarthy.

“It was two good teams going at it,” McCarthy said. “Obviously you want to win both, but it was just great pitching performances on both sides [both days] -- classic pitchers’ duels.

“It was good baseball. It’s a credit to the job Pete and his staff are doing and a credit to what my assistants are doing.”

Besides the victory itself, what made Wednesday’s game special to Lotus was that it was a welcome-back occasion for pitcher John Riordan, who was thought to be lost for the season after breaking a knuckle on his non-throwing hand in the 2015 opener. After seeking a number of medical opinions, Riordan found a doctor comfortable with inserting a wire instead of pins into the finger, thereby speeding up the recovery process.

All Riordan did upon his return was fire a three-hitter and require just 79 pitches to shut down Rice.

“We didn’t know what we were going to get,” Lotus said. “It was great to get John back and I was real happy for him. It was tough for him to sit out.”

Crusaders sophomore Jack Guzek was every bit Riordan’s equal except for the sixth inning. Although the Vikings collected only three hits themselves, Frank Greco’s single helped fuel the game’s lone scoring as it moved Nick Verta (walk, stolen base) to third and enabled him to cross the plate on Anthony Rios’ groundout.

Rios accounted for St. Laurence’s other two hits. The Vikings didn’t get anyone past second base until the sixth.

Ryan King had two of Rice’s safeties and Mike Schalasky smacked a double. Before the week was out Schalasky raised his season homer total to 10 as he continued to be the area’s most prolific power hitter.

“The type of year he’s having is absolutely fantastic,” McCarthy said. “It’s pretty impressive the type of season he’s putting together. He’s having a career year and it’s a credit to the work he’s put in.”


Role reversal was in effect on Saturday, a day when Rice honored its current seniors and inducted three former players into its Athletic Hall of Fame. Ushered in were 2009 graduates Bobby Schuch and Kevin Callahan and 2010 alumnus Kevin Koziol.

What that trio witnessed was another tense matchup, this one pitting Schalasky against Greco. Schalasky allowed just two hits over six innings and reliever Jack Butler gave up another in the seventh, but singles by Greco, Rios and Jack Cavanaugh weren’t enough to get the job done for the Vikings.

Like Guzek on Wednesday, Greco was the pitcher who finally blinked -- barely. Again the sixth stanza decided it as King singled, was sacrificed to second, got to third on a wild pitch and scored on Ryan Kutt’s sacrifice fly. For the second time versus St. Laurence, King stroked a pair of hits.

“It was eerily similar [to Wednesday],” Lotus said of Saturday’s encounter. “I definitely didn't expect it.”

“[Both clubs] were playing hard, playing disciplined and staying focused,” McCarthy said. “As a player, the Catholic League Blue sets you up for the postseason [with] the intensity of the games, the pressure [and level of] competition. I feel our kids are prepared for that situation and the rigors of the playoffs with these 1-0 games.”

Brother Rice  3

St. Rita           2

            The Crusaders also engaged the Mustangs in a one-run battle last Tuesday, a game highlighted by two-run dingers from Schalasky and St. Rita’s Tyler Halas. However, the hero of the day in McCarthy’s view was Jake Petraitis.

            A seldom-used senior, Petraitis was called on to pinch hit when the contest entered the eighth inning and he delivered a game-winning single. McCarthy was thrilled for his player.

            “It’s absolutely wonderful for him,” the coach said. “He hasn’t gotten a lot of at-bats and it’s a difficult task to hit in that situation and environment, but it shows the type of kid he is -- hard-working and a pure character guy. To see him come through and how excited our kids were for him shows you how much everybody thinks of him. He does everything for us.

            "He is the ultimate teammate and I can’t say enough about him. That’s why you do this job -- to see kids like that [prosper]. It’s really, really special.”

Halas’ round-tripper was one of only three hits surrendered by Kutt, who fanned eight and walked three while triumphing for the sixth time this spring. Interestingly, the Mustangs’ other two hits also went for extra bases as Danny Gleaves and Steve Martinez both doubled.

This win and the one over St. Laurence assured Rice (24-8, 11-5) of a third-place finish in the CCL Blue behind Mt. Carmel and St. Rita. The Crusaders split their season series with the Mustangs but lost twice to the Caravan -- it was right after the second of those setbacks that Rice regrouped and embarked on its late-season surge.

“We could have gone south there, but we played very well in late April and [halfway through] May,” McCarthy said. “It shows the grit they have.

“The character of this ballclub is their resiliency, and they kept fighting and trying to get better. We felt like we fought hard every day and I’m very, very pleased with where we’re at.”

            Brother Rice  10

            Richards         0

Venturing out of the CCL Blue, the Crusaders tangled with the Bulldogs on Friday, one week after a previous meeting was washed out by rain less than two innings into the contest.

Richards players may have wished they had skipped the latest get-together because Rice hurler Tom Przekwas scattered five hits during a five-inning mound stint. The Bulldogs trailed 6-0 at that juncture and posed no real threat to the Crusaders’ well-being.

“They’ve got a nice team,” Richards coach Brian Wujcik said of Rice. “They play defense, swing the bats well and it looks like they’re pretty deep in pitching. We had seven hits [on the day], but we couldn’t get anything going.”

Chris Zeschke and Ryan Renken each had two hits to pace the Bulldogs’ attack. The Crusaders, meanwhile, knocked out 11, a total that included two Schalasky long balls that accounted for five RBI. Guzek went 3-for-3 with a double and two RBI, Petraitis drove in a run with his sixth-inning single and both King and Michael Massey swatted two-baggers.

McCarthy thought Rice’s display offered a great example of its range of offensive weapons.

“Balance is key to a lineup,” he said. “You’ve got to be able to win in different ways [and] we feel we’ve got a pretty balanced lineup.

“We have guys who can hit homers, but we also have guys who can bunt and run and hit for average and win [games for us] with line drives. [But] we have to stay consistent with our approach [at the plate] and be mentally tough.”

As if the Crusaders’ offense wasn’t already potent enough, Richards unintentionally aided it with three errors. Two of those were pivotal in Rice’s four-run third.

“When you play a team like Brother Rice, you can’t give them extra chances because they’ll take advantage of it,” Wujcik said.

            St. Laurence  6

            Loyola Academy       2

The Vikings waited until the fifth inning to score last Tuesday, but the delay was worth it as they erupted for enough runs to down the Ramblers and complete a two-game series sweep.

St. Laurence wasn’t without opportunities before that, but doubles by Rios, Tommy Farrell and Jake Tholl all got wasted. The Vikings also had a runner thrown out at the plate in the sixth, but that failure didn’t matter as Greco’s grand slam capped a productive stanza. Kevin Aderman, Cavanaugh (RBI) and Farrell (RBI) all hit safely ahead of him.

Even more satisfying to Lotus than his team’s 11-hit assault was Anthony Robles’ effort on the hill. He threw the first 5 2/3 frames and didn’t allow a single baserunner until the sixth. Four Loyola Academy hits in that inning enabled it to ruin Robles’ shutout bid.

Nevertheless, Lotus liked what he saw from Robles and reliever Zach Erdman as well as his other hurlers during the week.

“If we get pitching like we had last week, we’re going to continue being successful by doing that,” Lotus said. “We’ve been throwing the ball really well and we’ve gotten a lot better defensively the last couple weeks. We had that rough stretch [a few weeks ago], but all these games this [past] week I thought we played really, really well.”

With Saturday’s loss to Rice factored in, the Vikings (20-9, 9-7) had to settle for fifth place in the CCL Blue after claiming conference championships in 2013 and 2014.

            St. Laurence  10

            Lockport        5

A clash with SouthWest Suburban Conference Blue co-leader Lockport on Thursday resulted in another success for the Vikings, who constructed a 9-0 edge by the fourth inning and easily withstood some late noisemaking by the Porters.

For the first 5 1/3 frames, sophomore Angel Sandoval gave Lotus all he could have wanted pitching-wise. Lockport batters whiffed four times against Sandoval and confined most of their seven hits off him and Erdman to the sixth.

“They were very good, but Angel did a good job mixing up pitches and keeping them off-balance,” Lotus said. “I’m really happy with the way we played, especially coming off a 1-0 win against a rival.”

St. Laurence twice erupted for four runs, using Verta’s two-run double and Cavanaugh’s RBI single as the key blows in the second and another two-RBI Verta hit as a main ingredient in the fourth. Also contributing to the latter rally were Rios (RBI single), Farrell (single) and Greco (sacrifice fly).

Greco had two additional RBI in the game, one on another sacrifice fly and the other on a groundout. Farrell, who had gone 4-for-4 against Loyola, added a 3-for-3 performance and three stolen bases here. He is batting over .500 for the season.


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.