Living in a perfect world
Knights set school record for best start
By Ken Karrson
While other teams scramble to find baseball games, Chicago Christian keeps on playing -- and winning.
The Knights raised their season total of completed contests to eight, the same number that is counted on the left side of the ledger. Victories six, seven and eight came last week, one of them at the expense of a first-time foe.
Never before Thursday had Christian and Lincoln-Way East met on the diamond, but that changed now that Mark Vander Kooi is in charge of athletics at the Frankfort school. A former football coach and AD at Christian, Vander Kooi contacted Knights coach Eric Brauer to ask if he was interested in a game.
Brauer, also Christian’s current AD, didn’t hesitate to say yes.
“If somebody calls and wants to play, we’ll usually try to find a way to play it if we can,” he said. “We felt pretty good about it.”
Brauer and his players felt even better by day’s end as the Knights made the most of their opportunity against a member of the highly regarded SouthWest Suburban Conference Blue. Despite owning a roster that was about double the size of Christian’s, the Griffins wound up short on the scoreboard.
They did draw first blood but went dry after the opening frame. There were a couple threats issued, but Knights pitchers were equal to the task. And a three-run third inning snapped a 2-all tie and sent Christian on its way to a 5-2 win.
“They were probably better than us, but we played a real clean game with no errors,” Brauer said. “It boils down to toughness a little bit.
“It was a quality win, no doubt about it, but more than anything it continues to instill in our guys the attitude we’ve been preaching for seven years: show up every day expecting to win.”
The Knights didn’t let that success make them overconfident, however. On Saturday they were down in Jacksonville, Ill., for a jamboree and bagged two more triumphs: 11-6 over Rockford Christian and 14-0 over Reed-Custer. The second of those gave Christian eight straight wins to open the 2015 campaign, its best start ever to a season.
The Knights could match the longest winning streak in program history with another clean sweep this week. Christian achieved its record of 12 in a row in 2005 under Brauer’s predecessor Sam Hamstra, whom Brauer credits with initially creating the proper environment for success.
Hamstra certainly would have been proud of the Knights’ efforts on Thursday, which included input from many. Four pitchers took the mound, a move made by Brauer to ensure he’d have enough rested arms available for Saturday and also because it “was going to be cold so I couldn’t extend anybody too long.”
2014 Player of the Year Christian Bolhuis logged the victory by throwing the final 3 2/3 innings. The only trouble he encountered occurred in the seventh, but the Griffins left two runners stranded when Bolhuis rang up a strikeout.
The Knights generated just seven hits, but three of them accounted for four RBI. Zach Frieling’s two-run double and Dan Vos’ single were the key elements of the aforementioned third-inning surge while Tyler Edgar chased home a teammate with his second-inning hit. Ron Clark’s grounder also knocked in an early run.
When asked if this ranked as a marquee win for Christian, Brauer preferred to simply view it as something that could possibly pay dividends down the road.
“Playing some good teams and good games hopefully prepares us for conference [contests, which began this week],” Brauer said. “And hopefully it sets us up for a nice playoff run [in Class 2A].”
Chicago Christian 11
Rockford Christian 6
Chicago Christian 14
Not until the fifth inning of Saturday’s first game did the Knights hold an advantage. They garnered it with a four-run outburst fueled by Trevor Wolterink’s two-run single and Tyler Edgar’s RBI double. Vos’ groundout also supplied a tally.
Edgar (double) and Wolterink had RBI hits as well during Christian’s three-run third. Other RBI producers were DeVries (double), Bolhuis (single) and Adam Schoenle (walk).
The Knights totaled eight hits and coaxed eight bases-on-balls and, true to frequent form, made the most of their chances.
“We preach quality at-bats to the kids -- we do bunt and put balls on the ground to move runners,” said Brauer, whose team has executed 13 sacrifice plays so far and drawn 41 free passes. “A lot of talented kids don’t want to do that, but our kids don’t come at it from that angle.
“It takes a little bit of checking your pride at the door, [but] it’s all about the team. Our kids are good, unselfish ballplayers [who] really buy into the team aspect and what we do.”
Wolterink, Bobby Schaaf and Schoenle shared the pitching duties, with the latter picking up his second victory of the young season.
The Comets have traditionally fielded a solid baseball squad, so Brauer was caught off guard by their inability to issue much of a challenge to the Knights in Saturday’s second encounter.
“We were very surprised at the score and the outcome,” he said. “It really wasn’t a very good game.”
Since teams at the jamboree don’t play a set number of games -- “Some play two, some play three, some play four,” Brauer said -- the Christian boss was unsure as to whether Reed-Custer was facing a pitching shortage or saving arms for another contest. But there was no question as to the effect the Knights’ bats had on the Comets, particularly in the fourth stanza.
That’s when Christian broke the contest wide open with a 10-spot. Josh Hill’s bases-clearing double capped the huge uprising, but Vos (two-run single), Bolhuis (triple), Frieling, Schoenle and Pat McCarthy also delivered RBI hits.
Vos, DeVries and Jacob Bulthuis knocked in earlier runs with singles. The Knights scored four times over the first three frames. Their 14 runs meant only three baserunners were stranded as Christian finished with 14 hits and three bases-on-balls.
“That’s not a bad stat to keep up,” said Brauer, whose team used a similarly high runners-to-runs ratio as a main ingredient in a 30-win season a couple years ago.
“I don’t care how our guys score -- when we get them on, we want to get them in. In a playoff game, if you only have five guys get on base but they all score, you have a good chance to win.”
Brauer again used a three-man group on the mound and starter Vos improved to 3-0 after pitching the first three innings for the Knights, who were slated to play Walther Christian this past Monday and Tuesday in their first two games as a member of the Metro Suburban Conference.