On the road to recovery

  • Written by Ken Karrson




On the road to recovery

Spartans are prosperous in busy week


By Ken Karrson

Sports Editor

Seven games into the 2015 season, some might have thought Oak Lawn was on the road to ruin.

That road has since become one of recovery.

What was overlooked by doubters was the fact that a string of early losses had been administered by some of the Chicagoland finest baseball programs. The Spartans weren’t winning, but the same could be said for many opponents of teams like St. Rita, Lyons Township and Lincoln-Way North.

While it looked as if Oak Lawn had hit rock bottom, in reality it may very well have been the Spartans’ ticket to the top of the South Suburban Conference Red.

Much of the schedule remains to be played, of course, but Oak Lawn has already made its presence known. With three league victories -- including one over cross-town rival Richards -- bagged last week, the Spartans entered the current week with a 5-1 mark in SSC action, leaving them just a half-game behind Red Division leader Shepard.

“You’re questioning your worth two weeks ago, but going 1-6 to start might have been the best thing that could have happened to us,” Oak Lawn coach Bill Gerny said. “[Our guys have] seen the worst of it already. We’re doing better and finally playing as a team.”

The Spartans’ fortunes have improved to the point where Gerny came away disappointed with a split the defending SSC Red champion Bulldogs. After dropping a 7-5 verdict in eight innings to Oak Lawn on Monday, Richards turned the tables one day later as it collected an 8-5 triumph.

“I really felt we should have beaten them twice,” Gerny said. “We kind of snuck out of there with one Monday, then we gave it right back. I hope that game doesn’t [eventually] mean more than just one loss.

“You’re looking at all the [Red] teams that are usually in the mix [of contenders] doing well -- that just puts more pressure on [everybody]. Whoever manages to sweep someone else is going to establish themselves as the front-runner. I hope it’s us.”

The Spartans (8-9, 5-1) positioned themselves nicely for that tag by overcoming an early deficit last Monday and then, after stranding baserunners in the fifth, sixth and seventh stanza, notching the deciding tallies on Liam Blake’s double. The two-bagger followed Joe Dodaro’s hit and Patrick Slattery’s bunt single.

“Our guys are definitely in a comfort zone at the plate right now,” said Gerny, whose club finished with 11 hits. “I think that early schedule is paying off. Teams that we struggled to beat last year, or that we lost to, we’re going toe-to-toe with them.”

Boo Quillin and Ivan Georgelos each drove in an earlier run with a single, Bobby Beard registered an RBI on a groundout and Justin Swatek brought home two teammates with a suicide squeeze in the fourth as Richards was slow to react.

“There was a lack of baseball IQ on that all the way around,” Bulldogs coach Brian Wujcik said.

Richards caught a break when it retired Ryne Melnik on a play at the plate to end Oak Lawn’s fourth-inning at-bat, and when Noel Castro’s sacrifice fly tied the score for the Bulldogs momentum had seemingly begun to shift. But a double play abruptly halted Richards’ plate appearance and it left runners aboard in both the sixth and seventh frames, including one at third.

“We did OK [overall], but [it would help] if we could shore a few things up, [like] the misplayed bunt, passed balls and wild pitches,” Wujcik said. “Every time we make an error, it seems like it’s two runs or better [for the opposition].”

Nick Fritz (single), Ryan Renken (sacrifice fly) and Angelo Smith (single) accounted for the Bulldogs’ other RBI. Oak Lawn’s Matt Witkowski went the distance on the hill to best Nick Mejia.


Richards gained its revenge on Tuesday, although it again was unable to hold an early 4-2 lead. This time, though, it did some late-game damage as Castro (two-run double), Smith (RBI single), Chris Zeschke (double) and Noah Petrusevski (sacrifice fly) helped generate a total of four runs between the fifth and seventh innings.

Smith was also the pitcher of record as he threw a complete game with 11 strikeouts. He now has 33 in his last three starts. His latest batch of strikeouts overrode the six walks and seven hits he surrendered.

“His control wasn’t the best, but he was effectively wild,” Gerny said of Smith. “He kept our hitters guessing and had us off-balance a little bit. [But] I thought we put up a good fight until the end.”

Castro (single) and Smith (bases-loaded walk) also had RBI during Richards’ four-run second stanza, as did Fritz (single) and Ryan Willett (swinging bunt). Dodaro and Quillin both poked two-run singles for the Spartans while John Roberts’ single gave them another marker in the seventh as it came on the heels of a free pass and Slattery’s double.

            Oak Lawn      4

            Tinley Park    0

A Quillin throwing error on Wednesday had given Marist the go-ahead runs in what became a 7-5 win for the RedHawks. He was making a relief appearance at the time, so Gerny wanted to quickly give his third-year varsity player a chance to redeem himself.

And that’s exactly what Quillin did on Thursday as he fanned eight, walked one and scattered four hits in a shutout of the Titans in an SSC crossover. Gerny called it “the most dominating pitching performance we’ve had all year.”

“Coaching a game like that is easy when your pitcher is not making your defense work very hard,” he said. “[Quillin’s] been the kind of player who is dependable. He puts so much effort into it and I know how much he cares.”

Quillin also knocked in Oak Lawn’s second run with a second-inning single. Other RBI men were Roberts in the first, Melnik in the fourth and Slattery in the sixth. The latter’s came on a two-base hit.

            Oak Lawn      10

            Hillcrest          0

            Oak Lawn      8

            Rich Central  1

Neither the Hawks nor Olympians provided much in the way of resistance on Saturday. Ryan Quinn, in fact, held Hillcrest hitless while whiffing six in the SSC crossover.

Rodrigo Zavala did give up five hits to Rich Central, but he also slipped third strikes past seven batters. The Spartans amassed 21 hits over the two games.

Dodaro had a pair in each and four RBI on the day while Blake and Slattery both supplied two hits and two RBI versus the Olympians. Also driving in two runs apiece in the second contest were Georgelos and Melnik. Swatek had a two-run double against the Hawks.

“People that follow our team [probably] don’t realize how good we’re doing in conference because of the tough nonconference schedule we had,” Gerny said. “It makes you feel better about the rest of the season, but if we don’t take care of [future] business the games will be meaningless.”

            Lemont           10

            Richards         3

While the Spartans made progress within the SSC Red, the Bulldogs backslid a bit as they lost to the Indians in a Thursday crossover. A six-run third inning gave Lemont the boost it needed to pull away from Richards.

“We had done the same thing the week before against Lincoln-Way Central, referring to falling behind by a sizable margin. “It was still early. We have to be able to forget it and still attack teams.”

That didn’t happen, however. Save for singles by Mejia and TJ Spyrnal that chased in runs, the Bulldogs’ bats were relatively quiet. Certainly they didn’t match the Indians’ Nick Wisz, who homered twice and totaled five RBI.

Afterward Wujcik spoke with his athletes and asked them if they wanted to be playing ball.

“I said, ‘Some of you don’t seem like you’re enjoying playing,’” Wujcik said. “We don’t celebrate good plays; everybody looks relieved [when they’re made]. Everybody’s career is finite. It’s going to end sometime, but sometimes the younger guys don’t get it.”

Richards (6-7, 3-3) isn’t overstocked with vocal upperclassmen to help bring less-experienced players out of their shells, but one individual who has been stepping forward in that regard is Willett. An all-area performer in football last fall, Willett did not play baseball as a junior because of injury and Wujcik wondered how much he’d be able to provide.

Now he knows.

“What a great addition,” Wujcik said of Willett. “I don’t know where we’d be without him. He’s always encouraging guys in the dugout. He’s the one keeping everybody up.”

            Richards 2

            Andrew 1

And Willett did more than that on Saturday. His diving catch at the warning track saved two runs and was part of a team defensive display Wujcik felt was the ‘Dogs’ best since their season-opener versus Rich Central.

Richards also turned a couple double plays to thwart the Thunderbolts, who stranded runners in each of the first four innings. They tallied their lone run in their initial at-bat.

Renken also drew praise from his coach for hanging tough on the mound. The junior struck out four.

“[Andrew] threatened all day, but Renken just kept pounding the [strike] zone,” Wujcik said. “Every outing that he has had has been a quality outing.”

Mejia finally gave his teammate a lead to protect in the fourth by going deep for a two-run homer. The hit was one of only four Richards mustered.


RedHawks zeroing in

  • Written by Ken Karrson


RedHawks zeroing in

String of shutouts keeps Marist rolling


By Ken Karrson

Sports Editor


Marist reached zero hour last week and Kevin Sefcik couldn’t have been happier about it.

Sandburg did the same but to much less acclaim from its coaching staff.

When late May arrives it wouldn’t be unreasonable to think of the RedHawks and Eagles being among the last area baseball teams still standing. After all, both programs have storied histories on their side, not to mention some pretty fair talent once again this year.

But for the moment they’re going in opposite directions. While Marist extended a winning streak that had begun with a five-game sweep through a tournament in South Carolina, Sandburg suddenly hit a brick wall.

Winners of nine of their first 10 contests this spring, the Eagles seemed to be flying high. Before last week’s action got underway, however, Sandburg assistant coach Chuck Peters had put up a warning flag.

“We’re going to find out what we’re made of,” Peters said prior to the Eagles tackling a docket that included a pair of SouthWest Suburban Conference Blue games against Homewood-Flossmoor plus nonconference matchups with the RedHawks and Lincoln-Way North.

He simply did not want anyone declaring Sandburg a finished product just yet, but Peters’ words proved prescient as the team indeed struggled. Not only did the Eagles endure a rare winless week, but they failed to score in three of their four outings.

And while that was happening, Marist found itself at the other end of the spectrum as it was particularly stingy in regard to surrendering runs. Not only was Sandburg a shutout victim on Friday, but so was Notre Dame twice in East Suburban Catholic Conference play on Saturday and Montini last Tuesday.

The RedHawks gave up five runs to Oak Lawn on Wednesday but still prevailed by two. The lone blemish was applied by Mt. Carmel on Sunday, but pitching remained a strong suit for Marist as the Caravan squeezed out a 1-0 win in a Steve Bajenski tournament game in Mount Greenwood.

“Our defense was very good [last week] and our pitching staff was great,” said Sefcik, the former major-leaguer who’s in his first year at the RedHawks’ helm. “The kids throw strikes.”

The ability of someone like Rich Kairis, a three-year varsity player, to produce on the hill isn’t a big shock. But Marist’s mound corps extends well beyond the senior.

“Jack Snyder has kind of come out of nowhere,” Sefcik said of the junior who went the distance in Game 1 versus the Dons after working five innings against Montini. “He’s throwing 84 to 86 [miles per hour], which is a good high school fastball.”

Pat Meehan collected a win and save last week, Ben Chaffee and Brandon Hanik joined forces to silence Sandburg and Brian Wood stepped forward at the end of a busy week to handcuff the Caravan for most of Sunday.

“It’s a different guy [coming through] every day,” Sefcik said. “I think you need to have that. In our conference, I think you need four [reliable] pitchers because of the Saturday doubleheaders. This was my first experience with that.”

The RedHawks’ pitching excellence came at an opportune moment, seeing as how the robust offense that Marist (12-2, 2-0) had put on display during Easter break was missing in action.

“Hitting’s the hard part to stay consistent with,” Sefcik said. “We took a step backward offensively after facing better pitching.”

Maybe so, but five times the RedHawks had enough to get the job done. Snyder and John Carmody provided RBI against the Eagles to fuel a 2-0 triumph while Carmody (RBI), Jake Powers (RBI) and Wood (two hits, one run) were the mainstays versus Montini, which fell to a 3-0 defeat.

In truth, nobody except Mt. Carmel really slowed Carmody, who already has 19 RBI this season. Two more were delivered in the opener against Notre Dame as well as opposite Oak Lawn.

Kairis (two hits, two runs), Meehan (RBI) and Grant Kenny (RBI) were other key figures in the initial 4-0 victory over the Dons. Kairis also had two hits in the nightcap, which Marist won 1-0 when Eric Hansen drew a bases-loaded walk.

            Marist             2

            Sandburg       0

Chaffee and Hanik outdueled the Eagles’ tandem of Trevor Faille and Kenny Michalowski but not by much. Had Jimmy Roche’s hard-hit grounder gotten through the Marist infield in the third, Sandburg would have gone in front; instead the play resulted in the third out that stranded two runners.

“We pitched OK, but we just couldn’t get anything going offensively,” Eagles assistant coach George Fear said. “They’ve been really good games [against the RedHawks] the past few years. They’re a tough team.

“They have three really talented guys and they surrounded them with guys who are solid. They’re [all] really aggressive at the plate and had good at-bats.”

            Marist             7

            Oak Lawn      5

The RedHawks raced out to a 5-0 lead on Wednesday, but the Spartans refused to fold. They got four of those runs back in their half of the third and then pulled even with Marist in the sixth.

“We had them on the ropes and couldn’t put them away,” Oak Lawn coach Bill Gerny said.

The RedHawks capitalized on a Spartans error in the seventh to pin a loss on Yunis Halim, but Gerny felt his hurler did a credible job.

“You look at five runs [given up] in the first two innings, but he really settled down and took charge after that,” Gerny said. “When you look at who we were playing, I’ll take that [performance]. He took a very positive step forward.”

Joe Dodaro (two), Patrick Slattery, John Roberts and Ivan Georgelos all provided RBI on base hits for Oak Lawn. Kairis (two hits with a double, two RBI and one run), Zach Sefcik (two hits, one RBI) and Tyler Haizel (double, three runs) teamed with Carmody to spearhead Marist’s attack.

            Marist             4-1

            Notre Dame   0-0

After limiting Montini to two hits over five innings on Tuesday, Snyder returned to the mound to toss a complete game at the Dons in Saturday’s opener. Meehan, who earned a save Monday, was the Game 2 victor opposite Notre Dame.

While Coach Sefcik said his squad “got lucky” against the Dons and admitted the RedHawks “can swing the bats better,” he also pointed out that despite the low-scoring nature of last week’s encounters Marist still boasted a team batting average of .290, 80 points higher than its 2014 effort.

“One of our goals is to walk as many times as we strike out,” Sefcik said. “We’re not quite there, but we’re still putting [plenty of] balls in play. We’re just not getting a lot of hits.”

            Mt. Carmel    1

            Marist             0

Caravan ace Nelson Munoz stymied the RedHawks on Sunday, but Wood was his equal through five stanzas. Mt. Carmel got the last say in the top of the seventh when an RBI single followed a balk called on Marist.

Zach Sefcik and Meehan (two hits) both doubled, but Coach Sefcik counted only four balls that were hit hard by his batters.

“You’re not going to win many games doing that,” he said. “[But] I think [elite pitching] is something we need to see.”

Sefcik praised Wood’s work, particularly since the latter was pressed into service primarily because the RedHawks were running short on arms. Slamming the door on as potent a club as Mt. Carmel made Wood’s exhibition especially satisfying.

“They’re a great team -- there’s probably nine or 10 Division I players on their roster,” Sefcik said. “On other days they’re going to hit, but [Wood] got a lot of popups.”

            Lincoln-Way North   3

            Sandburg       0

The Phoenix began the Eagles’ tough week by riding Northern Illinois University-bound Jake Mutter’s five-hit, nine-strikeout pitching performance to success last Monday. Griffin Kazmierczak and Andy Gaytan evenly split four of Sandburg’s hits between them.

“Again we couldn’t string anything together,” Fear said. “We had a couple at-bats with guys in scoring position, but we couldn’t get the big hit. They’re tough.”

Marco Babic threw well for the Eagles in a losing cause. He lasted five-plus innings and, according to Fear, had 20 first-pitch strikes.

            H-F     6-5

            Sandburg       0-4

The Vikings extended the Eagles’ scoreless streak over seven more stanzas last Wednesday as they tallied four times in the top of the first to take control of the contest.

“It took us out of our game [of] bunting and moving runners along,” Fear said, referring to Homewood-Flossmoor’s rapid getaway. “We swung the bats all right. We had a lot of competitive at-bats, but we’re really not built [to come back] that way.

“We’re not really disappointed except for that first inning.”

One bright spot was the relief work of Jake Tablerion, who entered for Eric Nelson in the first inning and pitched the remainder of the game. He was supported by an error-free defense.

Thursday’s rematch was more difficult for Fear and Sandburg (9-5, 0-2) to accept. The Eagles were ahead 4-1 after scoring three times in the fifth, but the Vikings immediately answered with a four-spot that allowed them to complete a sweep.

“We felt pretty good about ourselves up 4-1,” Fear said. “That was a tough loss.”

Ben Kociper (two-run single) and Roche (RBI single) had given Sandburg its advantage with their fifth-inning hits. Roche was also responsible for the initial tally when he singled in Gaytan, who had doubled in the first.

Fear said that despite the recent struggles, nobody in the program is worried.

“It looks bad getting shut out three out of four ballgames, but we’ve run into some tough outs,” he said. “I don’t think anybody’s panicking. Our general energy and attitude has been good and we didn’t give things away.

“We caught some breaks early in the year, but we’ve actually played all right [lately too]. This is just kind of where we’re at.”

One thing Fear wouldn’t mind seeing the Eagles improve on is their ability to retire batters in the lower portion of opponents’ orders.

“The last three years it feels like every time we walked the [No.] 9 hitter, we’ve given up runs,” he said. “You can’t put that guy on base [because] nothing good ever comes from that. He’s got to earn his way on.”


Pitcher perfect

  • Written by Ken Karrson



Pitcher Perfect

Pitcher perfect

SXU’s Nonnemacher strikes out every batter in win


By Ken Karrson

Sports Editor

            Nobody’s perfect? Trinity International University softball players would likely differ on that sentiment.

            And for good reason -- when the Trojans tangled with St. Xavier University last Tuesday in Game 1 of a Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference doubleheader, they were stopped dead in their tracks by Nicole Nonnemacher. The Cougars junior turned the pitching circle into a circle of hell for TIU.

            Not only did Nonnemacher fire a perfect game, but she struck out all 15 batters she faced in what became a five-inning 9-0 SXU victory. The 2014 NAIA Pitcher of the Year, who already is a three-time CCAC Player of the Week honoree in 2015, threw 50 of her 57 offerings for strikes and allowed foul-ball contact to be made just five times.

            “It was quite remarkable to witness,” Cougars coach Myra Minuskin said of Nonnemacher’s feat, which took only 1 hour and 13 minutes to complete. “I have never seen this accomplished before.”

            That’s understandable, seeing as how only one other NAIA pitcher, Central Baptist Arkansas’ Emily Guess, has managed to do the same thing. Guess struck out all 15 batters in a 27-0 perfect-game triumph over Hillside Free Will Baptist (Okla.) and, amazingly, repeated the exploit four days later in a 13-0 win over Crowley’s Ridge (Ark.).

            Nonnemacher’s perfect game was the second of her collegiate career, but her strikeout total did not match her single-game high. Sheer mathematics prevented that as Nonnemacher’s top mark is 19, which she produced in a Saturday defeat of Robert Morris University. Nonnemacher also fanned 18 Trinity Christian College hitters while tossing a one-hitter on March 17.

            When asked about her historic effort versus TIU, Nonnemacher remained low-key.

            “Throughout the game I was just working on hitting my spots and getting one batter at a time,” she said. “My pitches were working well on Tuesday and everything just fell into place. The strikeouts are nice, but a win is the most important achievement.

            “Each game I just focus on doing my best and [am] focusing on each pitch. We stress controlling the controllable and letting the rest fall into place. When I work ahead and cut down on my walks, I have a lot more success, so I have tried to do that as the season progresses.”

            Nonnemacher obviously didn’t require much in the way of hitting support to prosper, but she got plenty of help anyway. SXU (34-4-2, 15-0-1) scored in each of its four at-bats as Savannah Kinsella (two-run double) and Amanda Hainlen (two-run single) led the way.

            Also garnering RBI for the No. 5-ranked Cougars were Kasey Kanaga (single), Rebekah Ferguson (sacrifice fly) and Jessica Arebalo (bases-loaded walk).

            “We go out every game expecting to win and we [use] whatever means possible to get the victory,” Nonnemacher said. “Tuesday was no different -- that victory just came a little differently. I knew my defense was behind me and I trusted them to make the plays [if necessary].”

            “I can say now that Nicole is the best pitcher we have had in the program,” Minuskin said. “Nicole is a fierce competitor and never satisfied.

“She wants to get better every day and she has a great rapport with Erin Mollohan, our pitching coach. She has put in an amazing amount of time and effort to become a pitcher and not just a hard thrower.”

In addition to Mollohan, Nonnemacher credits one other person for aiding her development as a pitcher: her older sibling Megan. The sisters, who attended Normal Community High School in Bloomington, were SXU teammates in 2013 and ’14 and Nicole calls Megan “her biggest supporter.”

“Megan was a great pitcher to follow,” Nicole said. “We both had different strengths and we both learned a lot from one another. I always looked up to her throughout travel ball and high school because she was extremely successful and I wanted to do the same.

“When we played together at SXU, we definitely made each other better. Megan was able to strike more people out than she ever had before and I was getting more consistent with my pitches. She was always an accurate pitcher and liked to really work the corners [so] she helped me to focus on getting ahead in the count and improve on my accuracy.

“We both pushed each other to be the best we could be because we wanted to beat each other out -- she didn't want her little sister to play over her and I wanted to pass up my big sister. We didn’t realize it at the time, but neither one of us could have taken the other person’s spot because we each brought something different to the game.”

Minuskin agrees the sisters’ relationship “brought out the best in both of them.” While she termed Megan Nonnemacher “a phenomenal pitcher in our program” and credits her with showing Nicole “how to lead the team from the [circle],” Minuskin said the latter will “rewrite the SXU record books.”

“The one remaining objective is a national championship, Minuskin said.”


The Cougars also shut out TIU in the game that followed Nonnemacher’s masterpiece. Sandburg grad Caroline Kuzel earned her first collegiate decision in SXU’s 6-0 triumph.

Kuzel went the distance in Game 2 on a yield of two hits while whiffing five and walking only one. Denise Anderson (two-run double), Franchesca Graffeo (RBI single), Holly Hilden (single, groundout, two RBI) and Shannon Lauret (RBI infield single) were the Cougars’ offensive notables.


            Nonnemacher (16-3) didn’t get a whitewash in her 19-strikeout performance versus Robert Morris, but the lone run off her was unearned. She surrendered just three hits and issued no walks in an 8-1 win.

            Supporting her with productive sticks in the opener of a CCAC twinbill were Lauret (three hits, sacrifice fly, four RBI), Arebalo (homer, RBI groundout), Ferguson (RBI single) and Megan James (RBI single).

            SXU completed the sweep by downing the Eagles 7-0 in the nightcap behind Arebalo (two hits, sacrifice fly, three RBI), Lauret (two hits, two RBI), Kinsella (RBI hit) and Sarah Saunders (RBI hit). Sophomore pitcher Callie Brown improved to 16-1 while recording her sixth shutout of the season. She gave up two hits and struck out five.

            Following the doubleheader, SXU’s nine senior players were recognized for their contributions. The group included Lauret, James, Hilden, Hainlen, Sarah Saunders, Samantha Saunders, Katie Sears, Alex Bahner and Erin Houlihan.


            Also part of last week’s schedule was a twinbill against NCAA Division II Lewis University on Wednesday.

            Behind Kinsella’s 3-for-6 day, the Cougars managed a split. They dropped the opener 3-1 but rebounded to take Game 2 by a score of 6-5. Brown scattered nine hits in bagging the pitching victory.

            Kuzel claimed SXU’s lone RBI in the first contest. That was enough for Nonnemacher through six innings, but the Flyers rallied in the seventh. Four of Lewis’ six hits came in its final plate appearance.

            Nonnemacher finished with 11 strikeouts.

            Ferguson’s two-RBI double was the key blow in a five-run third inning that tilted Game 2 in the Cougars’ direction. Kinsella’s RBI single in the fifth enabled SXU to withstand Lewis’ comeback bid in the seventh.


Ike is to Spartans' liking

  • Written by Ken Karrson


Ike is to Spartans’ liking

Cardinals fall twice to Oak Lawn in SSC Red


By Ken Karrson

Sports Editor

At long last Oak Lawn caught a break.

Not that Spartans coach Bill Gerny would ever downplay any opponent, but the reality is a grim scheduling situation grew a little less so last week when Oak Lawn entered South Suburban Conference Red play. While Eisenhower certainly wasn’t going to roll over and die for the Spartans, it also didn’t present nearly as huge an obstacle to clear as several nonconference foes had the week before.

And Oak Lawn didn’t squander its opportunity to get back on track. It did so by nipping the Cardinals 2-1 last Monday and then blanking them 8-0 in a Tuesday rematch. The good times continued through Wednesday too as the Spartans got past Harlan 7-5.

Lincoln-Way West brought an end to the festivities with an 11-5 triumph on Friday in a game that was hastily scheduled after Morgan Park backed out of an agreement to meet Oak Lawn on Saturday. What made the loss to the Warriors go down a little easier for Gerny was that, in comparison to some earlier setbacks, the Spartans exhibited fight after Lincoln-Way West jumped out to a 10-3 edge in the first two innings.

“It had the feel of a St. Rita or Lyons Township [matchup], where we dug ourselves a hole and folded up,” he said. “But I was glad to see our guys competed and didn’t let it get out of hand. It was a good warm-up for Richards [this past Monday and Tuesday].”

Oak Lawn (4-7, 2-0) immediately dealt itself into the SSC Red race by shuffling the Cards aside with strong pitching. Both sophomore Chad Cwik and senior Matt Witkowski excelled, the former doing so first by tossing a complete game with seven strikeouts and two hits allowed. Cwik needed just 87 pitches to outduel Eisenhower’s Justin Longoria, who limited the Spartans to five hits.

Two of those followed a hit batsman in the first, however, and gave Oak Lawn the only runs it required to prevail. Joe Dodaro slammed a double to drive in Boo Quillin and John Roberts’ single plated Dodaro.

“[For a while] it was like a reoccurring nightmare,” Gerny said of his club’s offense. “[Longoria] had control of three different pitches and our guys were [often] out on their front foot. It’d be nice to step on [an opponent’s] throat when we get them down.”

The Spartans put two men aboard in a couple other innings but to no avail. Of particular note was the fifth, which began with a Cardinals error and Quillin’s double but concluded quietly when a groundout and two strikeouts followed in succession.

Those failures nearly came back to haunt Oak Lawn, but Cwik made sure the potential tying run got left at second base in the seventh by ending the contest with a strikeout.

“We hadn’t pitched him in two weeks [because of elbow tenderness], but he was really in control,” Gerny said of Cwik. “It was definitely a step in the right direction for us and a nice change from what happened the week before, and it was nice to give ourselves a little bit of a cushion starting out in conference.”


Witkowski, who’d taken two losses the previous week, was also dominant against Eisenhower as he silenced it on five hits while whiffing eight batters on Tuesday. He issued no walks and was supported by improved fielding behind him.

“Our defense has been such a black hole,” Gerny said. “One of the things we’ve been stressing is getting dirty and getting down to get balls in the infield.”

With the pitching and defense in good working order, all the Spartans needed to complete a series sweep was some hits. Oak Lawn piled up 13 of them, four of which were supplied by Bobby Beard.

His double and Dodaro’s single gave the Spartans a 2-0 lead in the second and Ryne Melnik’s sacrifice fly eventually chased in another run. Dodaro’s first-inning single had gotten Oak Lawn’s scoring underway, and neither he nor Beard was done making an impact.

Beard’s single and Dodaro’s sacrifice fly were both part of a four-run fourth and Beard singled home Quillin (single) with the Spartans’ final tally in the seventh after Roberts doubled in between them. Also providing RBI for Oak Lawn was Yunis Halim, who did so with his two-run single.

            Oak Lawn      7

            Harlan            5

Last Wednesday’s game was played in cool and windy conditions and got stopped after five innings because of approaching darkness. Before that happened, the Spartans roared back from a 4-0 deficit to bag a satisfying victory.

Gerny had anticipated trouble for his hitters when he got a look at Harlan’s hard-throwing pitcher, but doubles by Quillin, Beard (RBI) and Roberts (RBI) during Oak Lawn’s first at-bat allayed those fears. Dodaro also contributed a run-scoring single as the Spartans climbed into a 4-all tie.

“Our guys are accustomed to seeing guys with that kind of fastball and a good secondary pitch,” Gerny said. “They’ve had to battle at the plate, but when all they were seeing [here] was fastballs, they were able to time them and have some fun. Our guys completely proved me wrong.”

Dodaro and Quillin both had RBI doubles later in the contest. Gerny has especially liked Dodaro’s recent play.

“He’s thriving in pressure situations,” Gerny said. “If there’s guys on base in a clutch situation, he’s been coming through. It’s good to see.”

Oak Lawn finished with nine hits and was victorious despite giving up a dozen free passes to the Falcons. While Gerny wasn’t thrilled with that aspect of the Spartans’ performance, he did appreciate their ability to take care of business against a comparable foe.

“Harlan looked like a team very similar to us -- good players but with a tendency to make some mistakes,” Gerny said. “It was nice to see how we matched up with teams other than the top teams. There were positives to build off of.”


Ivan Georgelos and Quillin both poked two-run singles for Oak Lawn versus Lincoln-Way West. Dodaro also collected an RBI while Beard doubled. Among three pitchers Halim was the most prominent as he worked 4 1/3 innings of relief on a yield of only two hits.

Besides their confrontations with Richards, the Spartans also had scheduled games against Tinley Park, Marist and Hillcrest this week.

“We’ll have a better idea of how the [rest of the] season’s going to go after this week,” Gerny said. “Richards week is always a big week.”


Success comes at a cost

  • Written by Ken Karrson


Success comes at a cost

Smith hurt during Astros’ win over Braves


By Ken Karrson

Sports Editor


            On a day that Shepard won it also lost.

            The Astros only played one game Friday, and that went well as they scored a 9-4 victory over Bremen that kept them unbeaten in South Suburban Conference play. But in that contest senior Brett Smith was hurt during a fifth-inning at-bat.

            “On one of his swings he hurt something pop,” Shepard coach Frank DiFoggio said of Smith, whose injury was actually a re-aggravation of one incurred earlier away from the diamond.

“We carried him off the field and carried him onto the bus. He was going to get an MRI [this past] Monday and we’re preparing for the worst.”

            Already without Kevin Carmody, one of their top hitters, the Astros may now have to do without Smith for the long haul. His absence will put a noticeable crimp in Shepard’s mound staff, meaning veterans Adam Gregory and Eric Horbach must shoulder a greater amount of the pitching load.

            Before he departed, Smith stopped Bremen on two hits while striking out six. He was given a 4-0 lead to protect in the second stanza as Ken Gorski (two-run double), Horbach (sacrifice fly) and Bobby Peterka (RBI single) came through after the Astros (8-3, 3-0) had filled the sacks on two walks and a hit batsman.

            The advantage grew in the third when Kyle Longfield socked a solo homer and again in the fourth when a pair of hit batsmen set the table for another three-run flurry. Rob Marinec knocked in two teammates with a single and Ricky Mundo had one RBI with his hit. Gorski’s single on the heels of a Braves error made it 9-1 shortly before Smith stepped to the plate.

            Seemingly on solid ground, Shepard suddenly wasn’t. Perhaps shaken by what had befallen Smith, the Astros saw their lead reduced by three runs in the fifth and then watched Bremen threaten again in the sixth.

            Longfield, who’d already made a couple of good plays in center field, came to the rescue once more as he laid out to make a diving catch near the warning track to quell the budding uprising. DiFoggio pegged that defensive play as the game’s pivotal moment.

            “[If] he doesn’t catch that ball, it’s 9-6 with their 3-4-5 hitters [coming up] and a man probably standing at third,” DiFoggio said. “We would have been reeling at that point. Longfield made three great catches.”

                        Joliet Central13

                        Shepard          1

            What Bremen couldn’t do on Friday the Steelmen accomplished the next day as they exploded for six runs in their first plate appearance and never wavered en route to a mercy-rule triumph in five innings.

            “They knocked us around,” DiFoggio said of Joliet Central, which racked up 14 hits. “They hit lasers and they hit bloops.”

            And the Astros hit almost nothing. Gregory’s double was one of only two hits mustered by Shepard as Longfield got tagged with a pitching loss.

            Even after the defeat, though, the Astros are off to their best start in over a decade. Now the key is to not let the injuries affect them too badly.

            “We’ve dug the foxhole,” DiFoggio said. “[We’re] taking fire from all sides and rallying around each other.”

                        Shepard          10-4

                        Argo   0-1

            The Astros opened the SSC Red portion of their season in grand style by defeating the Argonauts last Monday and Tuesday. Shepard turned the first game into a rout by amassing nine runs between the fourth and fifth innings.

            DiFoggio said Argo had a hand in the Astros’ initial outburst as it issued a pair of walks and hit a batter. But Shepard also did its part as Gorski, Marinec and Smith all had RBI hits and Gregory launched a sacrifice fly.

            “So far this year -- and I hope I don’t jinx us -- we have been taking advantage of opportunities given to us,” DiFoggio said. “We’re not letting many of those mistakes other teams make go past. We’re pouncing on them.

            “In high school baseball, [I believe] you don’t win games; other teams lose them. Defenses in high school aren’t [always] that good, so you weather the storm and you’re successful.”

            Gregory’s bases-clearing triple and Peterka’s RBI single highlighted a five-run fourth and an Argonauts miscue in the fifth created a double-digit that brought the contest to a premature halt.

            Gorski’s 3-for-3 effort paced an 11-hit attack behind Horbach, who logged his first win on the hill by fanning nine and allowing only three hits.


            While Monday was a breeze for the Astros, beating Argo a second time required a bit more tenacity on Tuesday. Peterka’s three-run homer in the third amounted to the difference.

            He finished the day with three hits, which also included a double. Peterka may have been on fire, but the rest of Shepard’s order wasn’t as just one other hit was produced. Luckily for the Astros Gregory (3-0) was equal to the challenge on the mound as he rang up 13 strikeouts while throwing a three-hitter.

            DiFoggio wasn’t shocked that the Argonauts put up greater resistance in the rematch.

            “You can’t take anybody for granted in conference,” he said. “These kids all know each other and have been playing against each other for a long time and the coaches know each other’s tendencies. So it comes down to who is prepared and who’s willing to fight from beginning to end.”

            Shepard, which plated its last run on an Argonauts throwing error, had only three games on tap this week, two of them SSC crossover affairs. After hosting TF South today, the Astros visit Riverside-Brookfield for a nonconference game on Friday.