Vikings share CCL Blue title
Half a piece is better than none at all.
That’s true whether the object in question is a baked good or baseball title. And it was an opinion shared by St. Laurence players and coaches in the aftermath of Saturday’s 2-0 loss to Brother Rice.
That defeat put the Vikings in danger of a runner-up finish within the Chicago Catholic League Blue. But Mt. Carmel, which had fallen twice to the Vikings in earlier matchups, did them a favor by knocking off arch-rival St. Rita in another Saturday clash.
Thus, St. Laurence was guaranteed a slice of the championship pie, which it shared with the Mustangs. The Vikings (26-4, 13-3) bagged at least a piece of the Catholic Blue crown for the third time in four seasons. They won it outright in 2013.
“It’s not the most ideal way to win a conference championship, but we’ll take it,” St. Laurence coach Pete Lotus said with a chuckle. “Luckily, Mt. Carmel came through for us. Our game was done in probably an hour-and-a-half, but we still had guys around because it was our Alumni Day.
“This is always our first goal and I’m really proud of our guys. Once you get past the frustration of not playing the way we’re capable [on Saturday], you realize it’s a great accomplishment [to win the championship].”
And, as Lotus pointed out, the Vikings actually had to come from behind after losing a game to De La Salle several weeks ago. The Meteors handed St. Laurence its only other shutout of the spring.
“We had to be at least a game better than everyone else in the Blue because nobody else lost to a White team,” Lotus said. “It says something about the effort we put in to get to that point.”
Although the Vikings dropped their league finale, they also notched a pair of victories last week, one of them against the Crusaders. On Wednesday, Brad Wood and Mike Kornacker joined forces to quiet Rice’s sticks enough to net a 4-2 triumph for St. Laurence.
The Crusaders’ only scoring occurred in the bottom of the fifth, when Kevin Biondic (double), Ryan Kutt and Kyle Hilliard all hit safely. Hilliard drove in a run with his single, while Dan Paluch did the same with a fielder’s choice.
By that time, though, Rice (23-9, 11-5) was chasing a deficit, which St. Laurence created by tallying in each of its first three plate appearances. The Vikings totaled just seven hits, but included among them were Wood’s two-run double and Mike Miller’s RBI single.
St. Laurence was given further assistance by the Crusaders, who contributed some mix of walks and miscues to each of the Vikings’ rallies. Lotus didn’t care how St. Laurence prospered, just that it did.
“Obviously, there was a lot of meaning to this game, but they’re always such intense games [anyway],” he said. “We knew it was going to be a battle.
“It’s good to win games like this. We’ve been in so many lopsided games that you almost don’t know the mentality of your team. It’s very easy to pitch and hit when you’re up by a lot of runs.”
It was Rice’s turn to hold a foe in check on Saturday. It did so behind Brian Musielak’s route-going performance on the mound, which featured the senior retiring the last 14 batters he faced, nine of them on either groundouts or strikeouts.
“Those were not very good at-bats,” Lotus said. “We didn’t hit and we gave them a lot of easy outs. Once we got down, we started to press a little bit, and that’s the last thing we needed to do.”
St. Laurence had a golden opportunity to break through in the third when Kevin White doubled and Kornacker singled with one out. A popout and groundout followed, however, and Musielak was able to preserve his squad’s 2-0 lead.
The Crusaders had constructed it in the second frame by combining singles from Erich Lieser, Andrew Dyke and Jake Barry (RBI) with a Vikings throwing error. Kornacker surrendered just two other safeties besides those and fanned nine, but he still got saddled with a heartbreaking defeat.
The Catholic League season is over, but St. Laurence isn’t finished playing Blue Division clubs. The Vikings will tangle with St. Rita yet again when they square off today in the Steve Bejanski Tournament. Mt. Carmel is also among the participants.
While Lotus is fully on board with the fund-raising portion of the event, he admitted that playing three contests in as many days at the end of the schedule can be dicey.
“If you’re a struggling team and you do well there, it can carry you [into the postseason],” he said. “The last thing you want is for it to work the other way.”
St. Laurence 11
Loyola Academy 4
After pummeling the Ramblers two days earlier, the Vikings might have thought last Monday’s rematch was a foregone conclusion. But when Loyola erupted for four runs in its initial at-bat, Lotus admitted his players received a wake-up call.
St. Laurence responded to the challenge before it by plating three first-inning runs and, more importantly, slamming the door on the Ramblers after that. Reliever Frank Greco threw 5 2/3 innings on a yield of four hits.
“It was a frustrating start — we didn’t come out well at all,” Lotus said. “It was big for us to get a couple of those runs back, and not giving them any more momentum was huge.”
The Vikes required only one hit during their three-run rally, but Roger Wilson’s double and Miller’s two-RBI single were key elements in St. Laurence’s third-inning surge. Miller, who also stole home, delivered a two-run triple one stanza later to highlight a five-run outburst.
Brother Rice 16
St. Rita 5
The Crusaders threw a roadblock in the Mustangs’ path last Monday by blasting 21 hits and winning in a rout. Mike Massey and Dyke both went 4-for-5 to pace the Rice assault, while Lieser and Biondic chipped in three hits apiece.
Between them, the quartet drove in 10 runs and scored seven. Also making his presence felt in a measurable way was Barry, who slugged a two-run homer and two-RBI triple. The Crusaders tallied eight times in the fourth inning and five times in the seventh.
Earning the win in relief was Mike Enriquez, who struck out five and allowed only two hits over three frames.
Loyola Academy 400 000 0 — 4
St. Laurence 303 500 x — 11
St. Laurence 2B: Wilson, Wood. 3B: Miller. RBI: Miller 4, Kornacker 2, Burnette, Wilson. WP: Greco (5-0).
St. Laurence 121 000 0 — 4
Brother Rice 000 020 0 — 2
St. Laurence 2B: Wood. RBI: Wood 2, Miller. WP: Wood (5-1).
Brother Rice 2B: K. Biondic. RBI: Hilliard, Paluch. LP: K. Biondic (0-1).
Brother Rice 020 000 0 — 2
St. Laurence 000 000 0 — 0
Brother Rice RBI: Barry. WP: Musielak (5-3).
St. Laurence 2B: White. LP: Kornacker (6-2).
Brother Rice 102 800 5 — 16
St. Rita 212 000 0 — 5
Brother Rice 2B: K. Biondic, Lieser, Massey. 3B: Barry. HR: Barry. RBI: Barry 4, K. Biondic 3, Dyke 3, Massey 3, Lieser. WP: Enriquez (6-2).