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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.

 

Eagles soar past Bulldogs

  • Written by Ken Karrson

 

SB-RICHBASE.PHOTO1.6-4

Class 4A Providence Catholic Regional

Eagles soar past Bulldogs

 

By Ken Karrson

Sports Editor

 

            The unpredictability would be enough to confuse even the most adept mathematician.

            In that world, if “A” is greater than “B” and “B” is greater than “C,” it stands to reason that “A” tops “C” as well. Not so on the baseball diamond, however.

            If that were true, Richards would have been the team meeting Providence Catholic in the final of the Celtics’ own Class 4A regional this past Monday. After all, the Bulldogs had recently gotten the better of Stagg, which had swept a pair of games from District 230 sister school and SouthWest Suburban Conference Blue rival Sandburg for the first time since 2007.

            So based on that sequence of events, Richards figured to hold the upper hand against the Eagles in last Thursday’s semifinal matchup. Just to better his team’s odds, Bulldogs coach Brian Wujcik opted to bypass hard-throwing sophomore Angelo Smith in favor of Ryan Renken as Richards’ starter on the mound.

            “They faced Smith earlier in the year,” Wujcik said of Sandburg. “[And] they play in a power-pitching conference, so I didn’t know if his 83-mile-per-hour fastball was enough. Renken throws a lot of curveballs and changeups, and I was hoping to keep them on their front foot and off-balance.”

            The strategy, though seemingly sound, got wrecked immediately, however. Four singles -- including a couple of the seeing-eye variety -- two walks and a passed ball were mixed together to produce four first-inning runs for the Eagles, who never wavered en route to an 8-1 victory over the Bulldogs.

            Renken was eventually replaced by Smith, who fared no better as he also yielded four runs. They were spread out over three different stanzas but were more than enough to drive the final nail into Richards.

            “There was really no second-guessing on my part,” Wujcik said of his pitching decision. “I could have thrown Roger Clemens -- we only had three hits. We just couldn’t get anything going. The balls we hit well were right at them.”

            And even when they weren’t, Sandburg usually made the plays defensively. Center fielder Andy Gaytan was credited with two of the more impressive ones as he made a diving catch and also raced into the gap to rob the Bulldogs (19-15) of an extra-base hit on another occasion.

            “Their balls found the holes and ours didn’t,” Wujcik said.

            Dan Dziadkowiec’s two-run single and Ben Kociper’s RBI hit were two key ingredients in the Eagles’ initial round of scoring and the former lofted a sacrifice fly to drive in another teammate in the fourth. Jim Roche, Gaytan and Jim Landgraf (RBI) contributed singles to that later rally.

            Richards threatened a bit in its portion of the fourth, but a double play pretty much ruined that scoring bid. It broke through one frame later on Brett Thomas’ RBI groundout, but that was to be the extent of the harm inflicted on Sandburg, which added solo tallies on Roche’s sacrifice fly and a passed ball in the fifth and sixth, respectively.

            Ryan Willett, Noel Castro and Smith accounted for the ‘Dogs’ hits off Jack Wolfe.

            “We had some quality wins -- Stagg, TF South, Oak Forest -- and I thought we were playing decent baseball [late in the year],” Wujcik said. “We weren’t limping into the playoffs, but we needed to get into a rhythm early [versus Sandburg].”

            Making that more difficult was the weather-related idle period Richards endured right before the state tournament began.

            “I don’t know if it would have made a difference, but not playing for six days [probably] didn’t help,” Wujcik said. “It was a nice opportunity to go over things, but it would have been nice[r] to have stayed game-sharp.”

            Like most coaches at season’s end, Wujcik had a somewhat difficult time accepting the finish, especially since it occurred in Richards’ first postseason outing. But upon further review he will find a lot to like about a plus-.500 campaign that featured the Bulldogs staying in the hunt for a South Suburban Conference Red title almost the entire length of the schedule.

            “Give me a month and I’ll look at it in that [positive] way,” Wujcik said. “We didn’t have a lot of guys returning with experience -- there were never more than three seniors on the field at a given time -- and we often had three sophomores on the field at a given time.

            “We’ll have all of our starting pitching coming back and [people at] some other key positions, so we’ll get to work this summer and start preparing for next year.”

                                    ***

            Editor’s note: Sandburg’s season came to an end this past Monday when it dropped an 11-0 verdict to the host Celtics in the Providence Regional championship game. The Celtics now enter the Marist Sectional, where they will be joined by the RedHawks, Lincoln-Way North and Marian Catholic.

 

Royally flushed

  • Written by Ken Karrson

 

HEADLINE: Royally flushed

SUBHEAD: Class 4A king knocked off twice by Crusaders

 

By Ken Karrson

Sports Editor

 

The 2014 king got crowned in 2015.

Providence Catholic ruled over all of Class 4A last spring, and chances are good the Celtics will not go down easily once this year’s postseason tournament commences. But while the future still holds promise, the present left Providence empty-handed.

Brother Rice accomplished that twice last week, once in a pitchers’ duel and the second time in a romp. By virtue of 1-0 and 11-1 wins over the Celtics on Monday and Wednesday, the Crusaders served official notice that whatever had been ailing them the week before when they fell twice to Mt. Carmel was nowhere to be found.

Rice was unable to complete a clean sweep as St. Rita edged it 7-6 in another Chicago Catholic League Blue contest on Saturday, but that defeat did nothing to temper Crusaders coach John McCarthy’s enthusiasm for his squad’s positive reversal of fortunes.

“We could have decided we were going to feel sorry for ourselves [after the Mt. Carmel losses] and say, ‘We tried, but it didn’t happen,’” McCarthy said. “We were backed into a corner, [but] we fought our way out. I’m very proud of the type of kids we have. I’m excited about this group.”

That group includes sophomore pitchers Ryan Kutt and Jack Guzek, both of whom managed to stifle Providence’s offense. Kutt’s masterful three-hit, seven-strikeout performance was necessary on Monday as Rice (21-7, 9-4) managed only five hits itself.

The Crusaders didn’t break a scoreless tie until the fifth inning. Ryan King’s bunt single and stolen base set up the opportunity, a passed ball moved him to third and he crossed the plate on Colin Shea’s groundout.

McCarthy was effusive in his praise for Kutt, who made sure that meager output was good enough for Rice to prevail.

“Ryan pretty much put us on his back and said, ‘We’re not losing today,’” McCarthy said. “It was pretty cool to be a part of. He changed speeds really well, attacked the [strike] zone and kept them off-balance -- he couldn’t do much more [for us].”

Guzek benefited from a far greater degree of offensive backing last Wednesday as the Crusaders twice erupted for five runs in an inning. The first of those was capped by Andrew Dyke’s grand slam while the latter rally was fueled by clutch hits from Kutt (two-run single), King (two-run triple) and Jake Ridgway (RBI double).

“Wednesday was probably our most productive game of the season,” McCarthy said. “We bunted real well, ran the bases real well -- we did all the little things to separate ourselves from Providence. Our hitters just did a great job.”

Ridgway also picked up an RBI with his third-inning groundout that chased in King (double) and Danny Paluch singled in a run for Rice. Not to be ignored amid the 13-hit fireworks was Guzek’s six-hit mound effort that kept his ledger perfect at 4-0.

While both Kutt and Guzek are young, the former had already gotten his feet wet by playing varsity ball for much of his freshman season. Guzek is going through upper-level diamond wars for the first time, which makes his success to date especially noteworthy.

“He fought through a back injury and Jack’s been absolutely fantastic [since then],” McCarthy said. “It has a lot to do with him as a person. He’s a steady kid that works so hard and cares so much about the team.

“It was a good week for us. I liked our approach and we played really, really well. It gave us a sense of confidence that we were ready to make the steps to become a great team.”

            St. Rita           7

            Brother Rice  6

The Mustangs slowed the Crusaders’ growth but not enough to discourage McCarthy or his athletes. And why should they have been seeing as how St. Rita needed to rally late in order to dispatch Rice?

The Crusaders were ahead 5-3 after batting in the top of the fifth and maintained a lead until the Mustangs’ final plate appearance. Michael Massey had two hits and two RBI for Rice and Dyke poked an RBI double. The latter also tallied in the sixth when he alertly raced home while Kutt was caught in a rundown.

Other RBI came from Paluch (bases-loaded walk) and Max Hughes (groundout).

“It was just an incredible baseball game,” McCarthy said. “We gave it everything we had for seven innings. We came up short, but we can live with that. It doesn’t mean they’re better than us, just on this day.

“I’m very impressed with the direction we’re heading in terms of our willingness to compete. We still haven’t played our best baseball, [but] we’ve played in big-game atmospheres with a lot of pressure and I feel we’re battle-tested.”

A St. Rita rematch was slated for this past Monday and two confrontations with St. Laurence were also on the Crusaders’ schedule. They venture outside the Catholic League Blue to face Richards in a game that had gotten underway last Friday but was halted by rain after less than two full innings had been completed.

 

Norwegian good

  • Written by Ken Karrson

 

HOCKEYFEACH.PHOTO.5-14

 

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

 

 

BOBBY-FRASOR-PHOTO.5-14

 

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.