Chilly reception

  • Written by Ken Karson

Spartans’ bats cool in opening week

Winter is officially over, but Oak Lawn’s bats remained in hibernation during opening week of the 2014 baseball season.
The weather was partly to blame for the Spartans’ quiet offense, but also contributing was some stout pitching by their two foes. Both St. Rita and Lincoln-Way Central boasted live arms, the former calling on three different ones to stymie Oak Lawn last Wednesday at the Ray Kroc Center in Chicago.
The Spartans were limited to Joe Dodaro’s fifth-inning single hit-wise, and he immediately got erased in a double play. Oak Lawn batters also fanned 12 times — seven of them coming on called third strikes — in what ultimately became a 5-0 victory for the Mustangs.
On Saturday at Chicago State University, the Spartans didn’t fare a whole lot better as they were held in check by Knights hurler Brandon Bass, who was pitching before seven radar gun-toting scouts. They clocked Bass’ fastball at between 91 and 94 miles per hour, and only three Oak Lawn hitters were able to solve him to any measurable degree.
Three of the Spartans’ four hits were registered in the sixth inning, but a pickoff play and twin killing snuffed out the budding rally and ensured that Oak Lawn would be the victim of a second consecutive whitewash. Lincoln-Way Central triumphed 10-0, as the game ended when the Knights created a double-digit edge with one more run in their portion of the sixth.
Like every other squad that hasn’t ventured beyond Illinois’ borders, the Spartans’ time spent outdoors has been severely limited because of poor weather. They did practice on Oak Lawn’s artificial-turf football field, but they “couldn’t take BP or see live pitching a whole lot,” according to coach Bill Gerny.

“When we get some warmer weather, I’d like to believe some of these [negative] things are going to get worked out,” he said.
The artificial surfaces at the Kroc Center and Chicago State, in fact, were the only reason the Spartans didn’t enter the current week with a zero listed in the games-played column. That’s because Oak Lawn’s own natural-grass diamond was still not ready for use.
“It’s gotten to the point where I’ve talked to our AD about a turf [baseball] field,” Gerny said. “We might have a winter like this only every three years, but there’s so much manpower spent for maintenance and rescheduling. Our lower levels haven’t even practiced outside.”
And although St. Rita wasn’t too much ahead of the Spartans in regard to game-day competition, the handful of contests the Mustangs already had under their belts undoubtedly was a plus for them. Meanwhile, Oak Lawn batters were facing what Gerny viewed as “definitely a daunting task to open up against them before seeing any [other] live pitching.”
But St. Rita was unable to get anything going, either, during the first three innings as Spartans pitcher Matt Dunne was equal to the challenge before him. The Mustangs wound up plating four of their runs off the senior through five frames, but only one of those was earned.
Dunne scattered eight hits, six of which were singles, and didn’t issue any walks. He struck out three.
“He’s a smart pitcher and he knows what he’s doing out there,” Gerny said of Dunne. “Everybody’s been talking about the high-powered offense St. Rita has, but I think he really stepped up and showed he’s ready to pick up where [2013 ace Bob] Kametas left off.”
A misplayed fly ball made two of the three runs the Mustangs tallied in the fourth inning unearned, and they capitalized again in their ensuing at-bat when Oak Lawn botched a potential double-play ball. The Spartans finished with four errors.
“Our guys came out really focused and our defense was really lock-down for the first three innings,” Gerny said. “But St. Rita kept putting pressure on our defense and we cracked.
“They hit the ball hard, but we were going blow for blow with one of the best teams in the state. If we make a couple of those plays, it’s 2-0 in the seventh inning, and it puts some pressure on them and maybe makes their pitcher pitch differently.”

Lincoln-Way Central 10
Oak Lawn 0
The Knights stranded a number of baserunners in the first two stanzas on Saturday, but they increased a 1-0 lead by erupting for a four-spot in the third inning. That chased Spartans starter Matt Witkowski from the hill.
“He was at 50 pitches and we didn’t want to put his arm at risk,” Gerny said of Witkowski. “He was showing flashes of being dominant, but his command wasn’t there for every batter.”
The lone threat Oak Lawn posed to Bass occurred when Brandon Quillin, Kevin Zurek (double) and Dunne all hit safely against him in the sixth inning and Dodaro drew a free pass. Lincoln-Way Central’s fielders helped Bass escape danger, however, which wasn’t all that surprising to Gerny.
“When you’ve got a guy throwing hard like that, it gives you a boost,” he said. “We saw that last year when Kametas was on the mound. You have a little more margin for error.”
Dunne accounted for the Spartans’ fourth hit off Bass.
Oak Lawn was scheduled to play four times on the road this week, including today at Brother Rice and Saturday at Maine West.
St. Rita 000 230 0 - 5
Oak Lawn 000 000 0 - 0
Oak Lawn LP: Dunne (0-1).

Oak Lawn 000 000 - 0
Lincoln-Way Central 104 041 - 10
Oak Lawn 2B: Zurek. LP: Witkowski (0-1).