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Black Monday

  • Written by Ken Karrson

 

RICEBASE.PHOTO1.6-11

Black Monday

Three local teams blanked in regional final

 

By Ken Karrson

Sports Editor

 

The nation’s workforce tends to hate Mondays.

After results were in for some rain-delayed regional finals, a sizable group of baseball players echoed that same sentiment.

The start of June meant the end of the season for three local teams, and making the defeats sting a little more was the fact that each club was shut out in its last contest of the spring. Perhaps the most surprising outcome was Brother Rice’s 5-0 loss to Marian Catholic in the Class 4A Shepard Regional championship game.

Also falling short were Stagg, which lost 4-0 to Lincoln-Way North in the latter’s regional, and Sandburg, which got rolled 11-0 by host Providence Catholic. The Celtics went on to beat Marist 3-2 in nine innings last Thursday to earn a spot opposite Marian, a 5-2 victory over the Phoenix, in the Marist Sectional title game.

The Spartans, an afterthought of sorts during the East Suburban Catholic Conference season, began their playoff journey with a 1-0 win over Shepard. Behind pitcher Mark DiLuia Marian’s good fortune continued versus the Crusaders, who managed just two hits -- singles by Andrew Dyke and Ryan King -- off the hurler.

“We didn’t play sloppy; they just beat us,” Rice coach John McCarthy said. “They took it to us pretty good.

“You’ve got to credit Marian. They earned it. We couldn’t change momentum -- that was the biggest thing.”

The Spartans tallied once in their initial at-bat, but what really put Rice (26-11) in a bind was Marian’s three-run third that featured RBI from DiLuia (single) and Carlo Falconi (sacrifice fly). Also part of the rally was Lavezz Middleton’s sacrifice bunt that wasn’t fielded cleanly and gave the Spartans a second baserunner with nobody out.

“That was kind of a backbreaker,” McCarthy said of Marian’s uprising. “They were being aggressive, playing confident and things didn’t go our way. I was disappointed for our guys, but unfortunately that’s the way it bounces.”

The Crusaders’ scoring chances were few. They did load the bases in the third, but a popout extinguished that threat. Rice received eight free passes from DiLuia and had one batter hit by a pitch, but it also went down 10 times on strikeouts.

Ryan Kutt was the losing pitcher although he was charged with only two earned runs as the Crusaders finished the day with four errors. Middleton had two hits for Marian, Falconi drove in two runs and Dan Gutierrez (one hit) scored twice.

“It’s tough to take positives from the end of the season,” McCarthy said. “It’s the toughest day of the year for coaches [because] every year you have a unique set of guys. I was very pleased with this group and we had a blast.

“We had a great season. You always think you could have gone further [and] I’d like to have a little more playoff success, but we’re doing the right things and it’s going to break [right] for us one day.”

            Providence     11

            Sandburg       0

The Celtics seized command against the Eagles (18-14) right away last Monday as they struck for five first-inning runs. Leadoff hitter Mike Madej’s solo blast on an 0-2 pitch got it rolling for Providence and Jimmy Jeffries added a three-run dinger before the frame was out.

“The game started off as bad as it could have [for us],” Sandburg assistant coach Chuck Peters said. “There’s not really a way to sugarcoat it -- we just didn’t play well and we got thoroughly beat up. We made mistakes and got handled pretty good.”

While Peters said the Eagles didn’t show any signs of quit, the uphill climb was too steep -- and it grew steadily worse as Celtics pitcher Brent Villasenor never allowed Sandburg to get its offensive footing while his own team kept scoring. Only Dan Dziadkowiec and Ben Kociper had much success against Villasenor, who tossed a four-hitter.

“I think our team got deflated, which is a little disappointing, but [Providence was] the better team and they took it to us,” Peters said. “We hit a couple balls hard, but it was probably the worst playoff game we’ve ever had. Hopefully that doesn’t happen again.”

And the best course of action in Peters’ opinion is to simply forge ahead.

“We just have to get back at it next year,” he said.

            L-W North     4

            Stagg   0

Chargers coach Matt O’Neill figured his squad would see Phoenix ace Kyle Ostrowski last Monday, and the Purdue University-bound hurler demonstrated his Division I-caliber abilities by mowing down 12 Stagg batters on third strikes and surrendering just three hits over 6 2/3 innings. Reliever Liam Jenkins finished off the Chargers (18-17) without incident.

Stagg pitcher Nick Gerzon wasn’t too shabby himself as he limited Lincoln-Way North to only four hits, but two of those -- Josh Mutter’s third-inning single and Ben Troike’s fourth-inning safety -- produced RBI. Pat Troike also knocked in a run during the latter frame with his groundout.

Max Downs delivered two of the Chargers’ hits off Ostrowski, including a double. His single in the second and an ensuing hit batsman gave Stagg two runners in scoring position with one out, but a popout and flyout quashed the would-be rally.

The Chargers also left the bags filled in the seventh and stranded a total of 11 men.

 

Catching up on lots of lost time

  • Written by Ken Karrson

 

BARTOSH

HEADLINE: Catching up on lots of lost time

            Now that a certain columnist has awakened from a winter slumber -- who are we kidding; the spring and fall snoozes got in the way too -- it’s time to address a few things that have occurred since last we met.

            The most recent bit of big news was Bruce Jenner deciding that he no longer liked being best known as an Olympic gold medalist in the decathlon. Of course, to younger folks his athletic past gets overshadowed by his association with the wacky Kardashian cabal, which may explain his own erratic behavior over the past couple years that culminated with his announcement that he is going to become a woman.

            None of this really mattered in a sporting sense until one group with way too much time on its hands opted to draft a petition urging the International Olympic Committee to strip Jenner of his 1976 medal. Come on, the man/woman has already stripped himself/herself of all dignity in the eyes of many, so let’s back off, OK?

            Amazingly, the IOC for once acted with a smidgen of rationality and said it wouldn’t even entertain the idea. Good because no matter how one might view Jenner’s recent actions, he earned that medal fair and square.

            The argument the petitioners offered was that men and women aren’t supposed to compete in each other’s events, but Jenner was unquestionably male when he participated nearly 40 years ago. Besides, how would being a woman have helped him in that circumstance? It would, in fact, have hindered him.

            So even if he now wants to have it melted down and made into a broach or pair of earrings, Jenner deserves to keep his medal.

            Now as for the whole sex-change thing, I have just one question: Why is he being feted for his courage? Aren’t we going overboard here? Far better examples of courageous individuals in athletics would be college basketball player Lauren Hill, who inspired teammates with her battle against cancer before passing away during this past season; former Kansas City Chief Joe Delaney, who drowned while trying to save three kids who’d fallen into a pond; or baseball Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente, who died in a plane crash while en route with supplies for people living in an impoverished part of the world.

            Those are examples of heroism; a guy unearthing his inner female doesn’t quite fall into that same category. I hope we can all agree on that.

                                    ***

            On a lighter note, you may recall several months ago when Prince William of England and his wife visited the U.S. and took in an NBA game while here. Normally that wouldn’t have been a big deal to anyone but the entertainment-world paparazzi, who salivate at the thought of being in the presence of royalty, either real or theatrical.

            However, a photo that made the Internet rounds was one William and Kate had taken with LeBron James, who had his arm around Kate when the picture was taken. His hand was in plain sight, so that was no problem; what did cause a bit of a stir among the super-sensitive crowd was that James had the temerity to touch royalty.

            Hey, everyone around the NBA refers to him as “King James.” Now, I’m no scholar when it comes to understanding regal hierarchy, but I do know that whenever I play poker king trumps all else, including queen. And since William still has to answer to his grandmother … well let’s just give LeBron a pass.

            The only thing that would have made it unpleasant was if James had worked up a sweat beforehand by taping a commercial or calling a press conference to announce his career plans for 2016, but that apparently wasn’t the case.

            An interesting point in all this is I don’t recall William getting his royal drawers in a bunch over the whole thing. If he had, we would have heard about it and, of course, he would have settled things mano a mano.

            Polo ponies at 20 paces perhaps?

                                    ***

            Remember the story about a Dallas Cowboys player who went to extremes to beat a kid in a video football game?

            Orlando Scandrick was visiting a children’s hospital, which was a very cool thing to do. What was downright cold, however, was the way he resorted to employing trick plays while playing Madden Football with one of the patients.

On the one hand Scandrick’s win-at-all-costs attitude is admirable. Too often we don’t see such determination being exhibited by today’s athletes, who seem content to cash their gargantuan paychecks that are attached to their guaranteed contracts and aren’t bothered at all by a game’s outcome, so Scandrick is a breath of fresh air in that regard.

Making it stale is the fact he didn’t adopt that same mindset on a Sunday against a Green Bay Packer or Washington Redskin but saved it up for use against a helpless kid. When this story first came out, some people weighed in with the idea that Scandrick was teaching something every youngster should realize: Life isn’t fair and things don’t always work out the way we would like.

I assume, though, that a kid in a children’s hospital has already figured that out for himself.

                        ***

OK, where is it? Where is the mad rush to soccer everyone said Americans were finally going to make in the aftermath of last summer’s World Cup?

To paraphrase an old Phil Collins tune, I guess they missed again.

Don’t say you weren’t warned by the realists. While soccer may be the world’s favorite sport, it’s a world the majority of native-born U.S. citizens simply refuse to enter when so many alternatives exist.

Most of us are perfectly content to let soccer have its place in the athletic sphere and won’t harass fans of it, assuming we don’t get harangued ourselves. But that’s what happens every time a U.S. team steps on the world stage -- we’re informed in a most direct manner that this is the time soccer will catch on in a massive way.

A year ago I tried again to understand what the temporary hoopla was all about, but soccer just didn’t grab me. Don’t hate me, soccer fans, but I felt the entire undertaking was tedious and I grew weary watching it.

Gee, no wonder I dozed off for nine months.

 

Eagles hold fourth at state

  • Written by Ken Karrson

 

SPORTSWRAP.PHOTO1.6-11

Eagles hold fourth at state

Win ensures volleyball team a trophy

 

By Anthony Nasella

Correspondent

            When Sandburg advanced to the boys; volleyball state finals last weekend in Hoffman Estates, it had only one goal: to bring the championship trophy back to Orland Park.

            The Eagles had to settle for fourth place, however. Vernon Hills ended their title bid -- not to mention a 28-match win streak -- in the semifinals by squeezing out a 25-23, 20-25, 25-23 victory on Saturday. Both physically and emotionally drained after that encounter and then forced to wait a long time before taking the court again, Sandburg fell to Addison Trail in just two sets, 25-18, 25-23 in the third-place match.

            The Eagles (36-6) beat New Trier 30-28, 18-25, 25-18 in Friday's first quarterfinal after advancing to state on the heels of a 25-15, 25-20 vanquishing of Marist last Tuesday in the Shepard Sectional championship match.

            “We brought home hardware and it’s always nice to do that,” Sandburg coach Sean Airola said. “It just wasn’t the trophy we wanted. It was all or nothing for these guys.

            "We played a long hard match against New Trier, and the next day after we lost to Vernon Hills the players had a four-hour gap of sitting around. [So] it was tough for them to play in that third-place [match].”

            The Eagles' loss to Vernon Hills prevented them from getting another shot at Glenbard West, the eventual state champ. Sandburg had won a head-to-head encounter with Glenbard at Brother Rice's Smack Attack, the most notable triumph during the Eagles' lengthy win streak that had begun April 20 and one of only two losses suffered by the champs this season.

            Paul Chmura and Jake Hanes had 12 and 10 kills, respectively, versus Vernon Hills, but the duo was also guilty of 11 hitting errors between them. Also chipping in along the net were Tajai Lang (seven kills) and T.J. Vorva (five).

            "This is the state tournament and we weren't going to down easy," Chmura said.

            Sandburg never find a rhythm against Addison Trail as it put down just 19 kills and posted a .180 attack percentage. Things had been much better opposite New Trier as Chmura (17 kills), Hanes (14), Vorva (six), Grant Burden (39 assists), Lang (five blocks) and Colin Ensalaco (12 digs) all lent a hand.

            Hanes also had an embarrassing moment in the latter match when a ball he had thrown in the air to serve wound up hitting him on the head when it descended

            "That was the worst toss of my life,” said Hanes, whose seven kills had spearheaded the Eagles' sectional-clinching victory over Marist. “I was thinking I was going to make a foot fault and I was thinking about jumping, but I just let it drop and it hit my head."

            Despite coming up short of their goal, the Eagles drew nothing but praise from Airola, who watched them get on a major roll after going 8-4 over their first dozen matches.

            “We started out a little rough but got better as the season went on," he said. "We played one of the toughest schedules in the state and we proved to be one of the best teams in the state. We showed a lot of heart [and] we did a lot of great things this year."

                        GIRLS' SOCCER

            After finishing with a 7-8-3 record in 2014, Stagg put together a stellar season in 2015 as it tripled its victory total and earned the program's first sectional title since 2006 and just its second overall.

            But the Chargers' magical campaign came to an end at the Class 3A Normal Supersectional, where Collinsville shut them out 3-0. In the process, Stagg also saw a 12-match unbeaten streak get halted.

            “The hardest part about Tuesday was saying goodbye to a really good group of girls who were so committed and so driven,” Chargers coach Chris Campos said. “We lose some significant seniors, so the loss was definitely bittersweet. This season was a definite success for Stagg soccer.

            “We finished with the best record in Stagg history (21-4) and had the big winning streak before our final loss to a very good Collinsville team. We tried to put our best foot forward on Tuesday, but we just fell a little short.”

            To be sure, Stagg was in the hunt after 32 minutes as it was locked in a scoreless tie with Collinsville thanks to some stellar play by goalkeeper Claire Heneghan. However, Collinsville’s height and depth began to make a difference in the second half.

            The Chargers, who had recorded three straight shutouts heading into the supersectional, almost scored when Hannah Mussallem and Veronica Stafira paired up but Mussallem’s shot was stopped by the Collinsville keeper.

            “We had a so much support from the community and the school,” Campos said. “This season was an experience the girls will remember and carry with them for the rest of their lives.

            "We lost some great seniors like Allison Stefan, Hannah Mussallem and Claire Heneghan, but we have nine freshmen and bunch of juniors who got experience this year. So we’re definitely looking forward to the future and [will] try to get back to where we were and keep improving day by day the way this team did.”

 

Hosts have the most

  • Written by Ken Karrson

 

Class 4A St. Laurence Regional

Hosts have the most

Vikings slip past Spartans to win crown

 

By Ken Karrson

Sports Editor

 

Home-field advantage was exactly that for St. Laurence on Saturday -- barely.

Whatever edge the Vikings might have had as host of their own Class 4A regional was razor thin. In essence, they were 180 feet better than Oak Lawn.

That was the distance separating Spartan Ivan Georgelos from home plate in the seventh inning. After driving in Oak Lawn’s initial marker of the day with an infield hit, Georgelos eventually represented the tying run but got stranded at second.

As a result, St. Laurence emerged with a 3-2 triumph that netted it a sixth consecutive regional championship. The Vikings meet Chicago Catholic League Blue rival St. Rita today in a semifinal of the latter’s sectional.

The winner of that game will face off against either Mt. Carmel or Simeon on Saturday for the championship. And in St. Laurence coach Pete Lotus’ opinion, the Vikings’ narrow escape in the regional finale could prove beneficial as the going gets tougher.

“We didn’t put them away and we let them hang around,” he said of the Spartans, “but hopefully it’s good for us in a few ways. It shows us [that] when we have [scoring] opportunities we have to take advantage of them at this time of the season.

“And the silver lining was we faced a lot of adversity. Teams that can overcome that put themselves in a good position.”

The Vikings (23-11) certainly appeared to be in just such a place after only one inning. A few Oak Lawn bobbles contributed to a two-run St. Laurence rally that placed the Spartans in chase mode the entire day.

“Getting a run right away was big for us,” Lotus said. “At that point, even though they gave us a couple runs, I thought we did a good job.”

“I think our guys were a little nervous [at first],” Oak Lawn coach Bill Gerny said. “If we catch the ball, we’re getting out of there with no runs and it’s a whole new ballgame.”

The sluggish start was similar to the one that dogged the Spartans in a 2014 regional encounter with Mt. Carmel. In that earlier instance, things quickly spiraled out of control and Oak Lawn suffered a season-ending mercy-rule defeat.

Not so here. The Spartans (20-15) improved defensively after their initial miscues -- center fielder Bobby Beard stretched out to make a catch in the fourth inning that stranded a pair of Vikings on the bases and third baseman Joe Dodaro also made a diving play of his own that prevented St. Laurence from getting two runners in scoring position during another at-bat.

“Our guys battled right up to the last pitch,” Gerny said. “They didn’t back down from the challenge. They came out and competed the way the coaches hoped and thought they would.

“I couldn’t be prouder of our guys. I thought we played our best game of the season and did everything but outscore them.”

Jack Cavanaugh’s single upped the Vikings’ edge to 3-0, but that was to be the end of the pain inflicted upon Oak Lawn pitcher Boo Quillin, recently named the South Suburban Conference Red Player of the Year. The Spartans’ work in the field and some erratic baserunning by St. Laurence conspired to short-circuit one promising inning for the home team.

“That part of the game was frustrating, especially the way [Saturday] was with the weather,” Lotus said. “It rained the entire game, we had the tarp out about four times and we lost a little momentum. It got too close there at the end for sure.”

Vikings pitcher Frank Greco didn’t have to deal with many threats through the first six frames. John Roberts and Beard (double) both hit safely in the second, but a double play was sandwiched in between and a sixth-inning pickoff kept Oak Lawn from getting two runners on in that plate appearance.

Nevertheless, Gerny was satisfied with how his batters looked for the most part.

“We weren’t striking out a lot,” he said. “Our guys had good at-bats and were making solid contact.”

It finally paid off in the seventh as the Spartans did some noisemaking. Justin Swatek’s double opened the stanza, Beard got plunked by a pitch and a passed ball put them both in scoring position.

When Ryne Melnik also was hit with a pitch, Gerny was anticipating a big inning. But Lotus successfully argued that Melnik had initiated contact with the ball and the latter eventually struck out.

Gerny said “that changed the dynamic of the game,” but Georgelos’ hit and Matt Witkowski’s groundout brought Oak Lawn within one and set the stage for Quillin. Gerny felt the Spartans “couldn’t have scripted it any better,” but Vikings reliever Zach Erdman retired Quillin for the third out on a hard-hit grounder.

“Not many people were probably giving us much credit, but we’re a much better team [than in March]” Gerny said. “This was one of the most emotional games I’ve ever been a part of and I think our players became better people at dealing with life because of it.”

Lotus was understandably happy with his own guys too and hoped they appreciated their accomplishment.

“I don’t want them to take for granted winning a regional,” he said. “A lot of teams didn’t get the opportunity to do that. I’m really proud of how we stuck together through that bad week-and-a-half [in the early part of May] and stuff we haven’t been forced to deal with for a while.”

            St. Laurence  11

            Kenwood        1

Lotus’ biggest concern last Wednesday was how the Vikings would view the Broncos. Coming off a solid showing in the competitive Steve Bajenski Tournament against some familiar opponents, St. Laurence players could have easily overlooked their regional semifinal foe.

“I definitely worried about how our kids’ approach would be,” Lotus said. “Going from playing in that nice [Standard Bank] stadium with literally hundreds of people in it and a lot of excitement to our little field [was a big change].

“It was very easy to get up for those [Bajenski games], but we had no idea about Kenwood or who they played. We definitely didn’t want to be thinking ahead at all. Our focus was just to come out and play a really good game.”

That’s pretty much what the Vikings did, beginning with a three-run opening frame. They went on to score in four of their ensuing at-bats as well, two of which equaled the initial scoring output.

Cavanaugh paced the St. Laurence attack with a 3-for-3 performance that included four RBI. Also chipping in were Nick Verta (two hits, two RBI), Greco (RBI single, RBI groundout), Mike Finger (RBI double), Kevin Aderman (RBI single) and Tommy Farrell (double). Prospering behind all that offensive support was John Riordan, who scattered five hits and struck out that same number of Broncos.

“We played pretty well for the most part,” Lotus said.

            Oak Lawn      13

            Morton           4

Gerny had no complaints either about the Spartans’ display on Thursday. Oak Lawn removed all doubt as to the semifinal outcome by exploding for nine first-inning runs, an eruption greatly aided by seven Mustangs errors.

The Spartans also did their part as Roberts (two-run double), Georgelos (triple), Dodaro and Melnik all stroked RBI hits. Quillin and Witkowski both provided run-scoring singles in the next inning and Witkowski’s grounder plated Oak Lawn’s 13th tally in the fourth.

“It was nice because it took all the pressure off,” Gerny said of his team’s game-opening volley. “Being able to take care of a team early was good for our guys. It showed them how good they’ve become.”

Rodrigo Zavala was the pitcher of record for the Spartans, who gave Gerny his winningest season to date.

“This is a tough group to let go of,” he said of his seniors. “But there’s a lot to build on.”

 

Pardon the interruption

  • Written by Ken Karrson

 

Class 4A Shepard Regional

Pardon the interruption

Crusaders’ quest for crown gets delayed

 

By Ken Karrson

Sports Editor

 

To play’s the thing.

The sentiment is true for all baseball teams this time of year as postseason championships are there to be won. But sometimes outside forces interfere with the games.

That was the case for many area programs on Saturday as rain wiped out a number of scheduled regional-title contests. Included among them was a slated matchup between Brother Rice and Marian Catholic in the Class 4A Shepard Regional.

“Weather’s a part of it,” Crusaders coach John McCarthy said. “Our kids want to play, but there’s nothing you can do. We control the things we can control.”

What made sitting particularly difficult for Rice athletes was that they were hoping to maintain the momentum constructed last Wednesday in a 16-6 pounding of Crete-Monee. McCarthy tried to keep his guys sharp with a couple practice sessions, but he wasn’t sure how they’d respond when they clashed with the Spartans this past Monday.

What McCarthy was certain of was the need to simply live in the moment and not worry about anything that came before.

“It doesn’t matter,” he said. “Everything’s a different test. Anything can happen [in the playoffs], so you’ve got to bring your best [effort]. You’ve got to go out and win games.”

That’s what Rice (26-10) did versus the Warriors but not before Crete shocked the Crusaders in the top of the first. Rice pitcher Jack Guzek, who has pieced together a solid season on the hill, was unable to retire any of the seven batters he faced.

One of those players was thrown out on the bases, but the Warriors still piled up five runs as a two-run double and three RBI singles were part of a seven-hit onslaught.

“I give them a lot of credit -- they were ready to play,” McCarthy said of Crete. “They came out of the gates firing and were hitting [well]. Being down five was not how I drew it up, but to be honest I expected Crete to be good. They have strong senior leadership.”

Luckily for McCarthy, so too does his own squad.

“I don’t know if it could have gotten off any worse [for us],” he said. “While we’re going through it, we figured it’s going to end -- that’s the law of averages. [But] once we got through it, it was time to regroup. [We needed] to have good at-bats and not panic and try to do too much.”

Helping right the ship was an immediate response to the Warriors’ assault. The Crusaders shaved all but one run off their deficit in the bottom of the first, using Andrew Dyke’s RBI single and Mike Schalasky’s three-run homer as the pivotal blows.

“Everybody kind of breathed a sigh of relief when he hit that,” McCarthy said, referring to Schalasky’s blast. “That was about as clutch as you can get.”

Schalasky’s contributions didn’t end there. He went deep again in the third to drive in two more runs and collected a sixth RBI with his fifth-inning single.

And that still wasn’t all. Schalasky took the hill in relief of Guzek and, save for a run in the second, held Crete scoreless the remainder of the way. In upping his ledger to 7-1, Schalasky fanned six, walked two and surrendered just two hits.

“I think he was selling tickets before the game [too],” McCarthy joked of his talented star.

Schalasky was not forced to be a one-man gang, however. Dyke finished 4-for-4 with five RBI as he also drove in two runs apiece with a fourth-inning triple and fifth-inning double. Michael Massey singled in a pair of teammates, Max Hughes chipped in a double, Danny Paluch stroked an RBI single and Jake Ridgway gave Rice another marker by coaxing a bases-filled walk.

“You’re not taking any learning experiences from losing [now],” McCarthy said. “Maybe the younger players do, but for the seniors their season is over [with a defeat]. We were able to find a way to get through [the early trouble] and that’s what I was most impressed about. We took many positives from it.”

            Marian Catholic        1

            Shepard          0

Given their South Suburban Conference Red championship and a school-record-tying number of wins this spring, it was reasonable to expect the Astros to supply the Crusaders with their opposition in this past Monday’s title clash.

But that would-be matchup of local talent didn’t materialize thanks to Bryce Hennessy. The Spartans’ pitcher quieted Shepard’s offense to a degree few probably felt possible when the clubs tangled last Thursday.

The Astros (24-9) managed just three singles of Hennessy, only one of which came before the sixth inning. Eric Horbach, who was almost equally as sharp on the mound, Rob Marinec and Bobby Peterka accounted for Shepard’s safeties.

“We were very nervous of that kid,” Astros coach Frank DiFoggio said of Hennessy. “We watched him against St. Rita and he was the right person to give us problems. [With] fastballs and changeups we’re OK, but he threw a cutter and nice curveball -- nothing straight.

“He had just enough movement [to bother us]. We popped a lot of balls up and hit a lot of them on the ground -- we didn’t get square on too many.”

Perhaps in anticipation of Hennessy’s mastery, Marian Catholic employed a somewhat unusual defensive strategy.

“They played us shallow and basically dared us to hit it over their heads,” DiFoggio said.

The scheme didn’t backfire, but Horbach made sure Shepard never fell out of contention by handcuffing Spartans batters. Marian collected only four hits off the Astros’ senior hurler and fanned six times, the same amount of strikeouts as Hennessy amassed.

“He pitched great,” DiFoggio said of Horbach. “We felt pretty good that they weren’t going to score a lot of runs against us if we didn’t play bad defense.”

Shepard made only one minor mistake, but it wound up having a major influence on the proceedings.

After allowing a seventh-inning single, the Astros were unable to cleanly field a sacrifice bunt, which gave the Spartans a pair of baserunners. Another bunt put the lead man on third and he raced home on a sacrifice fly.

Hennessy gave up his last hit in the bottom of the seventh, but a pickoff prevented Shepard from capitalizing on it. The Astros then went down without further incident.

Notable for Shepard in defeat was that DiFoggio was able to pencil in his regular starting lineup for the first time all season. Kevin Carmody, who had missed the majority of the campaign with an injury, was cleared for action and, according to DiFoggio, the “only person that hit a ball pretty deep -- and he did it twice.”

“Offensively, we thought we’d get a couple freebies,” DiFoggio said. “We figured if we could get on [base] we’d bunt or run to get guys over. We didn’t expect zero walks or zero hit-by-pitches, and they didn’t make any errors.

“It’s disappointing, but it’s just one of those things. You want to have a good, clean baseball game and we didn’t play bad. You’ve got to give them credit.”

DiFoggio was actually referring to the Spartans with his last statement, but the same sentiment applied to his own players.

“We can’t hold our heads [down],” he said. “We had an unbelievable season -- the best record in school history and we won our first conference championship in 20 years. Ninety-nine percent of all the high school baseball players in Illinois end their seasons with a loss.

“We happen to be among the 99 percent, but what [our guys] did this year was fantastic. They really persevered through all the adversity we had early.”

Carmody, arguably the club’s best hitter, and pitcher Brett Smith were both beset by injuries well before the Astros embarked on their second-half surge that carried them past Oak Lawn in the SSC Red standings. Shepard’s schedule was decidedly weighted toward the back end in regard to quality of opponents, but that’s when the Astros were at their best.

“I’d love to see how good we could have been with everybody playing all season and clicking heading into the playoffs,” DiFoggio said.

                        ***

Editor's note: Marian Catholic also brought Brother Rice's season to an unexpectedly early halt by administering a 5-0 defeat in this past Monday's regional final. The Spartans joined Marist, Lincoln-Way North and Providence Catholic in the RedHawks' sectional.