Vikings knock off Class 4A champ Caravan twice
When it came to a clash of champions, league trumped state last week.
During the 2013 regular season, St. Laurence ruled over the Chicago Catholic League Blue. Among those schools the Vikings beat out for the crown was Mt. Carmel, which didn’t waste any time bemoaning its shortcoming.
Instead, the Caravan consoled themselves with an even bigger prize: a Class 4A championship. But when Mt. Carmel and St. Laurence renewed acquaintances on Wednesday, the past no longer mattered.
Only the here and now did, and the Vikings made it known they have every intention of successfully defending their league title. Having outscored Providence Catholic 25-4 in its first two CCL Blue outings, St. Laurence carried that momentum over into its encounters with the Caravan, who also fell to defeat twice.
The Vikings’ 7-3 victory in the teams’ initial contest was satisfying enough for coach Pete Lotus. But when St. Laurence followed up with a 15-6 mauling of Mt. Carmel and its ace pitcher Marko Boricich on Saturday, Lotus was almost at a loss for words.
“With all these [CCL Blue] teams, I don’t feel comfortable ever,” he said. “You want to keep coming [at them], but you don’t expect that.
“I’m really, really proud of our guys. To put up the [number of] runs we did against the guys we saw was great. It was a credit to our approach [at the plate] and the way we swung the bats.”
Saturday’s game, which pitted Boricich against the Vikings’ Mike Kornacker, was tied at 4-all after just two innings. But when St. Laurence tallied twice in the top of the fourth and then was able to stonewall the Caravan in the bottom of that same frame, it was in front to stay.
“That was a huge point in the game to have a shutdown inning,” Lotus said.
Not only did the Vikings (21-2, 9-1) tee off on Mt. Carmel pitching to the tune of 15 hits, but four of those balls left the park. Kornacker, Kevin White and John Riordan all blasted two-run homers, while Brad Wood’s solo shot accounted for St. Laurence’s second-inning marker.
Kornacker had three RBI in all, five others totaled two, and Riordan led a group of six players who delivered multiple-hit efforts. All that support enabled Kornacker to prosper on a day when he didn’t have his best stuff.
While even casual fans likely are aware of Kornacker and Wood, they probably aren’t as familiar with Alex Hitney. The Vikings’ No. 3 starter made his presence felt on Wednesday, though, as he stopped the Caravan on four hits and struck out five through five stanzas.
And by that time, St. Laurence was in control. Five runs plated between the fourth and fifth innings saw to that. The big blow was Mike Miller’s three-run homer.
“He struggled a little bit early on, but these last couple weeks he’s been on fire,” Lotus said of Miller.
As for Hitney, he rarely has been anything but solid for the Vikings this spring. This latest exhibition, however, officially signaled his arrival as a big-time hurler in Lotus’ opinion.
“He threw outstanding and I thought he was tremendous,” Lotus said. “We didn’t play great behind him, but he pitched above that. And that was really, really needed by us.”
Hitney got into some early trouble as Mt. Carmel loaded the bases with no one out in its initial at-bat. The Caravan did score twice, but Lotus felt both St. Laurence and Hitney had nevertheless dodged a bullet.
“To get out of that inning with just two runs [given up] was huge for him mentally,” Lotus said of his pitcher.
Kornacker’s first-inning groundout and Wood’s second-inning single created a 2-all tie, then Mt. Carmel sabotaged itself with an error that allowed both White (single) and Riordan (double) to cross the plate in the fourth.
St. Laurence 17
Providence Catholic 4
Anxious to make amends for the 8-0 whitewash they absorbed two days earlier, the Celtics scored twice in both the first and second innings of last Monday’s rematch. There was only one problem for them: The Vikings exploded for seven runs over that same span, including five in the first.
“Five runs was one of those momentum builders,” Lotus said. “They’re a good team, but we really swung the bats very well.”
Indeed, St. Laurence did as it banged out 14 hits, 10 of which went for extra bases. Miller belted three doubles and knocked in three runs, including one on a groundout, to lead the way. White (two-run homer, RBI double), Roger Wilson (two doubles, two RBI), Rob Gutierrez (pair of RBI singles), Nate Tholl (RBI triple), Mike Finger (RBI double) and TJ Marik (RBI double) were other notables in a high-powered offense.
“There’s days you score runs when the other team makes [many] mistakes, but Monday wasn’t one of those,” Lotus said. “It was just one of those good days [for us]. I wish they could all be like that.”
Like Kornacker on Saturday, Wood wasn’t in peak pitching form, but his five-hitter and five strikeouts over five innings was more than satisfactory on this occasion.
St. Laurence 11
Glenbard South 3
Stepping outside the CCL Blue on Thursday could have easily resulted in a comedown for the Vikings. Instead, they used the Raiders as a stepping-stone into Saturday’s meeting with Mt. Carmel.
Six different pitchers took the mound for St. Laurence, with starter Frank Greco getting the win when the Vikes staked him to an 8-0 advantage after two innings. Once again, St. Laurence’s attack was sparked by several individuals, a group that included Sean Burnette (two triples), Wilson (two hits, including a double, two RBI), Wood (two hits, one RBI), Finger (two hits, one RBI) and Miller (one hit, two RBI).
“We never played these guys before, so it was something we definitely talked about — not letting ourselves have a letdown,” Lotus said. “It was such a tough thing for [our players] because we were coming off an emotional win on Wednesday and had another big game in front of us on Saturday. But every game is important because you don’t want to get into bad habits.
“We played some guys in positions we haven’t done normally and used a lot of pitchers, but I thought we hit a lot of hard baseballs and ran the bases really well.”
Two CCL Blue games against St. Rita and one versus Loyola Academy were on tap for the Vikings this week. Today they’ll tangle with Andrean from Merrillville, Ind., which has already registered victories over Brother Rice and Marist this season.
St. Laurence 520 0(10) — 17
Providence Catholic 220 00 — 4
St. Laurence 2B: Miller 3, Wilson 2, Finger, Marik, White. 3B: Tholl. HR: White. RBI: Miller 3, White 3, Gutierrez 2, Wilson 2, Finger, Kornacker, Marik, Tholl. WP: Wood (5-1).
Mt. Carmel 200 010 0 — 3
St. Laurence 110 230 x — 7
St. Laurence 2B: Marik, Riordan. HR: Miller. RBI: Miller 3, Kornacker, Wood. WP: Hitney (5-0).
Glenbard South 000 120 0 — 3
St. Laurence 351 200 x — 11
St. Laurence 2B: White, Wilson. 3B: Burnette 2. RBI: Miller 2, Wilson 2, Finger, Kornacker, Riordan, Tholl, White, Wood. WP: Greco (5-0).
St. Laurence 310 215 3 — 15
Mt. Carmel 310 010 1 — 6
St. Laurence 2B: Gutierrez, White, Wood. HR: Kornacker, Riordan, White, Wood. RBI: Kornacker 3, Gutierrez 2, Miller 2, Riordan 2, White 2, Wood 2. WP: Kornacker (5-1).