No stretch for Mustangs in seventh
Down to its last at-bat, Evergreen Park made sure its first outing of the summer turned out right.
It was a case of seventh heaven for the Mustangs last Wednesday against Richards. Even when trailing the Bulldogs by three runs entering the final frame, Evergreen discovered staging a rally didn’t require too big a stretch.
Richards contributed a couple errors and a walk in the inning, and Bulldogs coach Brian Wujcik said one of the Mustangs’ hits was misplayed by his team. But Evergreen also did its part as Mark Martin, Joe Piet and Matt Lyons all delivered run-scoring hits.
Lyons’ double actually chased across two teammates, and that provided the Mustangs with the difference in a 7-6 victory.
“He’s a super-strong kid,” Evergreen coach Mark Smyth said of Lyons. “He’s a little bit raw, but he’s all baseball.”
The Mustangs are playing a reduced schedule this summer, in part because Evergreen’s 2013-14 school year extended deeper into June than usual. The plan is to not go beyond the Fourth of July.
That gives the Mustangs relatively little time to display their baseball wares, but Smyth isn’t worried.
“I think we have enough talent to keep it rolling for a few years,” said Smyth, whose teams have won 36 of their last 53 spring contests dating back to midway through the 2013 campaign. “Our sophomores beat Lemont in the spring, and they’re excited and more than willing to work and put the time in [to adjust to varsity play].
“We have a solid nucleus coming back and it’s good for the young guys to see the [veterans’] work effort. It’s businesslike and they do expect to win.”
JR Wazio, Pat Doran and Will Doran split the pitching chores versus Richards, which tallied in the first, third and fifth stanzas. The Bulldogs’ RBI men included Brett Thomas (two-run double), Richard Calderon (single), Josh Chaffin (single) and Nick Fritz (bases-loaded walk).
Thomas was one of the two pitchers used by Richards. He struck out five and scattered three hits during his stint on the hill.
While he was happy that his guys opened with a triumph, Smyth tried to keep a proper perspective.
“You never know who’s going to be there, or who’s going to think basketball is more important or football is more important,” he said. “Summer’s always a crapshoot. You hope you have everybody there, but you never do.”
One guy Smyth was happy to see on the job was Tim Donahoe, the head of Evergreen’s grounds and maintenance department. Smyth called Donahoe “our MVP right now” because of the latter’s ability to get the Mustangs’ field playable in a week that was punctuated by several downpours.
While Evergreen has been limited to one game thus far, the Bulldogs have stayed active. Their encounter with the Mustangs was their fourth, following two matchups with Bolingbrook and one with Westmont.
The low point for Richards unquestionably was its first outing against the Raiders, who used a 12-run fourth inning to bury the Bulldogs 17-6. Bases-on-balls were a big part of Bolingbrook’s uprising, but Wujcik had an explanation for that.
“One of the things we do in the summer is we’ll leave pitchers in there longer than we would in the spring,” he said. “What we want to accomplish is for them to pitch their way out of jams.”
That didn’t happen on this particular occasion, which offset some decent offensive efforts from Noel Castro (homer), Nick Mejia (two-run triple, RBI double) and Andrew Zemke (a pair of RBI singles). However, Fritz and Adrian Garcia teamed up to quiet the Raiders substantially in the rematch, which went Richards’ way by a 9-2 count.
“The fact that we did bounce back after something like that [first game] shows a little bit of character, which was nice to see,” Wujcik said. “It was a nice comeback win.”
The Bulldogs did all of their scoring within the first four frames. Three Bolingbrook errors contributed to Richards’ uprisings, but so, too, did RBI hits from Angelo Smith (two-run triple), Matt Rockey and Chris Zeschke. Tommy Olson also picked up an RBI on his first-inning groundout.
The Bulldogs’ bats were out in full force last Monday opposite Westmont, which got struck by a 14-hit onslaught and suffered a 16-6 setback. Four players produced multiple-hit performances, a group led by Smith (3-for-3, two triples, three runs, one RBI). Also swinging big sticks were Thomas (two hits, one double, three RBI, two runs), Ryan Ranken (two doubles, four RBI) and Nate Gimza (two hits, one RBI, one run).
Wujcik hopes to see continued development by his younger athletes, who must make up for the loss of a dozen members from the 2014 spring roster.
“This is the most seniors we’ve graduated since, I think, ’04, and [the majority of] the guys that are returning weren’t regulars,” Wujcik said. “We know we’re going to have growing pains, but they’re not interested in using the excuse that we graduated a lot of guys and we’re not going to be very good.
“A lot of them recognize the fact we have a lot of competition for open spots. There’s certain guys we have an eye on, of course, but we’re auditioning a lot of guys and they’re working hard. And our seniors are doing a nice job of showing leadership.”
Another plus is that the newcomers have already experienced success. Richards’ sophomores captured the school’s sixth straight South Suburban Conference Red lower-level championship this spring.
Acclimating to the demands of varsity ball won’t come without at least a few trials, however.
“We do have a lot of teaching to do this summer,” Wujcik said. “I don’t think I’ve ever known what it’s like to reload, but we’re under the hood now, rebuilding things.”
Pitching the ‘Dogs to their victory over Westmont were Smith, Mejia and Garcia, who fanned eight between them. Garcia is being groomed as a future reliever.
“Not necessarily a closer, but we want him to get used to a reliever role where he gets used multiple times a week,” Wujcik said. “There’s nothing electrifying about his stuff, but he gets a lot of ground balls.”
The Spartans are off to a 4-4 start to the summer, and three of the wins came during last weekend’s Richards Tournament. Oak Lawn defeated St. Charles East (3-2), Morton (5-4) and Oak Park-River Forest (15-1).
Spartans coach Bill Gerny didn’t know if his club actually claimed the tourney title, but that was almost irrelevant in his mind.
“Either way, it was a positive experience for our guys,” he said. “I think going 3-0 in the Richards Tournament was a step in the right direction and is going to give these guys some confidence.”
A dose of self-assurance certainly isn’t the worst thing for players who endured a disappointing spring campaign, one that ended with a slaughter-rule loss to Mt. Carmel in the final of the Caravan’s own Class 4A regional.
“We have some guys who have a bad taste in their mouth from last year that are working extremely hard [to improve the situation],” Gerny said.
Oak Lawn’s returnees have been seeing action in the first half of most games and, perhaps not so coincidentally, the Spartans have pretty much hung tough in each. That included in another clash with Mt. Carmel, which scored a 12-2 triumph but did the majority of its damage over the final two innings.
The Caravan, who have seven starters back from their spring squad, were ahead just 5-2 after five stanzas and managed only two earned runs off the combo of Matt Witkowski and Brandon Quillin over that span.
“We had a much stronger showing than [in] the regional championship,” Gerny said. “We ended up losing 12-2 because some of our younger guys are still getting used to playing varsity defense. Our defense has been suspect for a majority of the summer.
“Our starters have been strong, but we want to develop all 25 players on the roster. We share a lot of our athletes with football, so we haven’t had a game yet where we’ve had our full team.”
The story was similar against both De La Salle and TF South. The Meteors were ahead just 4-1 after five innings before pulling away for a 10-1 win, while the Rebels did nothing of note against Oak Lawn hurlers John Roberts and Ryne Melnick but eventually squeezed out a 7-5 victory.
“Our starting pitchers have been really good,” Gerny said.
That included Billy Dunne, the younger brother of 2014 graduate Matt Dunne. Billy Dunne surrendered only one earned run in a 6-3 loss to Morton, which preceded the Richards Tournament.
The Spartans gained revenge on Morton Saturday, when Melnik’s RBI single snapped a 4-all tie in the bottom of the sixth. His hit followed ones by Quillin and Witkowski. Marcus Montes pitched five innings for Oak Lawn, but Melnik (win) and Witkowski (save) were the hurlers of record.
Chad Cwik threw seven innings last Friday to help the Spartans edge St. Charles East. Quillin (triple) and Witkowski (RBI single) were key men at the plate. Fueling the rout of Oak Park-River Forest were Melnik (homer), Quillin, Roberts, Witkowski, Patrick Slattery and Liam Blake, all of whom had extra-base hits.
“We scored five [runs] in the top of the seventh and looked dominant at times,” Gerny said.
Witkowski went the distance on the hill.
Quillan collected a pitching win over Reavis by registering the last four outs in a 10-8 verdict in the Spartans’ summer opener. He also stroked the deciding hit in the bottom of the sixth.
Scheduled for five games through last Friday, the Astros got in only three. Wet grounds forced cancellation of their first contest in the Richards Tournament on Friday, while Romeoville was a no-show last Monday.
Shepard earned a forfeit victory in the latter instance and also collected one on the field by defeating Crete-Monee 11-6 last Tuesday. Losses were doled out by Andrew (13-2) and Oak Park-River Forest (8-4) in a tourney affair.
“Each of our games we’ve played, we’ve had our good moments and those moments where you say, ‘Oh man, what are we doing?’” Astros coach Frank DiFoggio said. “It’s all about getting [newer] kids experience.
“You know what the [returning] varsity guys can do because they’re practicing with you all the time [in the spring]. You tell them, ‘Get your work in for the day and get out.’”
DiFoggio “threw a bunch of guys” at Crete in order to “learn what they can do,” and one who impressed was pitcher Jake Fredrick. The junior-to-be saved a win for Tyler Walters after tossing four solid innings.
“I just like the fact he’s fearless,” DiFoggio said of Fredrick. “He goes out there and pumps strikes and gets a lot of ground balls. I like that type of kid.”
DiFoggio also liked what the trio of Eric Horbach, Kevin Carmody and Bobby Peterka gave him. The three spring vets went a combined 7-for-8 versus the Warriors with five doubles, six RBI and five runs. Mark Albrecht also smacked an RBI hit.
Carmody was involved as well in breaking a 3-all tie with Oak Park-River Forest as he tripled ahead of Ricky Mundo’s suicide squeeze. Billy Mitchell (single) and Jordan Noftz (groundout) also had RBI for Shepard, which was victimized by the Huskies’ five-run fifth, one of only two scoring innings for the latter.
“We did a lot of things fundamentally well at the plate,” said DiFoggio, whose club accrued a half-dozen hits. “We had productive outs.”
Mundo and Benny Meyer both delivered some respectable work on the mound. Meyer is the brother of former Chicago Christian player Brodie Meyer.
The lopsided loss to Andrew seemingly had little to offer in the way of positive points, especially since the Astros sprang a defensive leak. But since it was mostly rookies in the field, DiFoggio felt there was something good that could be taken from the contest.
“You see what it’s like [against a good varsity program] so you know where you need to get to,” he said. “Summer allows kids new experiences in a competitive situation. [The Thunderbolts] beat us up a little bit, but it was an eye-opener and a good learning experience for them.
“But I told them, ‘You guys weren’t afraid.’ They battled and kept trying, and I like that.”
The Knights’ perfect summer ledger ended last Tuesday against Sandburg, but they recovered quickly from that 5-2 setback as they romped past Eisenhower 11-1 two days later. In between, Chicago Christian lost a game to bad weather after playing 4 ½ innings.
“We’re off to a good start, obviously,” Knights coach Eric Brauer said. “I’d like to have a couple situations back in the Sandburg game — we played pretty sloppy, to be honest — but we’ve played pretty well overall. We’re learning and getting better.”
Christian Bolhuis, Jack De Vries and Jacob Bulthuis each supplied Christian with a pair of hits in its triumph over the Cardinals. Brauer employed four different pitchers, but Eisenhower was unable to inflict much harm against any of them in the five-inning contest.
Bolhuis homered and De Vries poked an RBI double versus the Eagles, but the Knights’ bid for success was undermined by a few mishaps.
“We did not play our best,” Brauer said. “We gave a couple away on defense and we made a lot of baserunning mistakes.”
Bolhuis, this paper’s Player of the Year and a member of the 20-man Class 2A all-state team this spring, threw admirably in a losing cause. Although he allowed seven hits, including a two-run homer, the senior-to-be fanned nine and issued only two walks.
Behind a big day from senior-to-be Brett Stratinsky, the Chargers outslugged Class 4A runner-up St. Rita 12-9 last Tuesday. Stratinsky’s three-run homer in the fourth highlighted a six-run outburst that expunged Stagg’s 8-6 deficit.
Stratinsky also stroked RBI singles in the first and third frames. Austin Greer (two-run single), Ethan Glaza (RBI double) and Mike Bibbiano (RBI single) were other batting notables for the Chargers.
Greer, Bibbiano, Jordan Henderson and Calgelo Martinez had two hits apiece for Stagg, which amassed 14 in all. The Chargers also took advantage of three Mustangs errors, two of which let in a total of three runs.
Stagg’s other contest wasn’t quite as rewarding as it dropped a 10-1 verdict to Andrew on Thursday. Mike Crosby collected three of the Chargers’ eight hits and Nick Mussari knocked in their lone run.
Stagg batters whiffed eight times against T’bolts pitching.