Making a pitch for excellence

  • Written by Ken Karson

Mound work looms large in Rice’s winning week

The baseball field at Immaculate Conception was an ideal setting for Brother Rice last week.
That’s because “immaculate” was also a pretty good adjective to describe the Crusaders’ pitching performances in four straight games.
How good was Rice’s mound work? Consider the following — the Crusaders’ offense collected just a baker’s dozen worth of hits over the first three contests played in Elmhurst, yet Rice went unbeaten. Then to conclude a productive week, Rice rode Ian McGinnis’ three-hit, seven-strikeout effort through six stanzas to an 11-2 rout of Aurora Central Catholic on Sunday at Plunkett Field.
The win was the Crusaders’ sixth in seven 2014 outings. Also pocketing victories on the hill last week were Mike Enriquez, freshman Ryan Kutt and Alex Alarcon, all of whom had their triumphs nailed down by strong relief hurling from Kevin Biondic.
“With good defense and great pitching, you give yourself a chance to win every game,” Rice coach John McCarthy said. “They [all] went out there and threw strikes, mixed speeds and hit the zone. It was fun to see.

“Kevin Biondic had three saves in three days — that was absolutely unbelievable. He was fantastic in tight situations. The kid’s really, really tough.”
First up for the Crusaders was Plainfield East, which actually outhit Rice 4-3 last Wednesday. What Plainfield couldn’t do, however, was parlay any of those hits into runs against Enriquez and Biondic, who struck out four batters between them and issued just two walks.
And the Crusaders gave Enriquez a lead to protect right away, as they tallied the game’s lone run in their initial plate appearance. Kevin Sullivan singled, stole second and eventually reached home on Andrew Dyke’s groundout.
Danny Beese’s sixth-inning single was Rice’s only other base hit in its 1-0 victory.
Brother Rice 2
Huntley 0
The Crusaders’ bats stayed quiet on Thursday, but four hits were still enough to subdue the Red Raiders, who had no scoring success at all versus the tandem of Kutt and Biondic.
The two pitchers combined on a three-hitter. Kutt threw the first five frames to earn his second win, while Biondic allowed only one baserunner in his two stanzas and then picked that man off.
Biondic also made his presence felt with the bat as he slugged a fourth-inning round-tripper to break a scoreless deadlock. Kyle Hilliard’s single drove in Rice’s other run in the sixth, as it came on the heels of a walk to Dyke and Erich Lieser’s one-out hit.
“The pitching’s definitely better than I expected, but we’ve got to make some strides at the plate,” McCarthy said. “We’ve been able to get some timely hits [so far].”
Brother Rice 5
Lyons Twp. 4
The Crusaders’ closest encounter of the week was probably their most satisfying one as well, as they knocked off the perennially powerful Lions on Friday. Lyons Township was ahead 4-3 going into the seventh inning, but Rice’s sluggish attack suddenly came to life at a pivotal moment.
The winning surge began when Jake Barry was hit by a pitch. After being sacrificed into scoring position, Barry completed his trip around the bases when Sullivan banged a game-tying double.
From there, it simply became a matter of Crusaders batters exercising patience. Free passes to Michael Massey and Biondic — with a flyout sandwiched in between — filled the sacks for Lieser, who induced one more base-on-balls that pushed across the deciding run.
Brian Musielak, Alarcon and Biondic all toed the rubber for Rice, with Alarcon getting credit for the win. Biondic walked one batter in the seventh, but quickly eliminated him by getting the next Lyons hitter to roll into a double play.
Biondic also claimed one of the Crusaders’ two first-inning RBI with his single. Dyke singled in the other runner.
“If we can keep getting better every day, things will take care of themselves,” McCarthy said. “It’s definitely a good start, but every week is going to be tough, so the biggest thing is not getting ahead of ourselves.
“Their concentration and focus have been good the first seven games — that’s a fifth of the season. Guys who have made mistakes have bounced back, and we have to keep that up.”
Brother Rice 11
Aurora Central Catholic 2
The Crusaders finally broke out in a big way offensively on Sunday, when they unleashed an 11-hit attack upon the Chargers and totaled that same number of runs. Rice expunged a 2-all tie with four tallies in the top of the fifth inning to take command.
Seven Crusaders hit safely, a group spearheaded by Biondic, who went 3-for-3 with three RBI. Two of his hits were doubles. Musielak (two RBI, one run) and Massey (two runs) both chipped in with a pair of hits, while Barry socked a homer and also delivered two RBI.
Heard from, too, were Lieser (double, one RBI, one run), Sullivan (one hit, two runs) and Dyke (one hit, one RBI, one run, two steals). The only negative was three Rice errors, which, while not detrimental here, is something McCarthy doesn’t want to witness with any degree of regularity.
“We can’t take plays off and we can’t take pitches off,” he said. “Defense is something we put a premium on and something that’s very important for Brother Rice baseball at all levels.”

That being said, McCarthy likes the positive feelings his guys have already generated, particularly since five foes awaited them this week. Among the quintet are area neighbors Evergreen Park and Oak Lawn, the latter of which is scheduled to meet the Crusaders today.
“[The early] success is great to see, especially for our seniors, who’ve put in the time and worked their tails off to get our program back to where it was,” McCarthy said.
Plainfield East 000 000 0 — 0
Brother Rice 100 000 x — 1
Brother Rice RBI: Dyke. WP: Enriquez (1-0).

Huntley 000 000 0 — 0
Brother Rice 000 101 x — 2
Brother Rice HR: Biondic. RBI: Biondic, Hilliard. WP: Kutt (2-0).

Brother Rice 200 010 2 — 5
Lyons Twp. 200 020 0 — 4
Brother Rice 2B: Sullivan. RBI: Biondic, Dyke. Lieser, Massey, Sullivan. WP: Alarcon (1-0).

Brother Rice 100 142 3 — 11
Aurora Central Catholic 000 200 0  — 2
Brother Rice 2B: Biondic 2, Lieser. HR: Barry. RBI: Biondic 3, Barry 2, Musielak 2, Dyke, Lieser. WP: McGinnis (1-1).