Success comes at a cost
Smith hurt during Astros’ win over Braves
By Ken Karrson
On a day that Shepard won it also lost.
The Astros only played one game Friday, and that went well as they scored a 9-4 victory over Bremen that kept them unbeaten in South Suburban Conference play. But in that contest senior Brett Smith was hurt during a fifth-inning at-bat.
“On one of his swings he hurt something pop,” Shepard coach Frank DiFoggio said of Smith, whose injury was actually a re-aggravation of one incurred earlier away from the diamond.
“We carried him off the field and carried him onto the bus. He was going to get an MRI [this past] Monday and we’re preparing for the worst.”
Already without Kevin Carmody, one of their top hitters, the Astros may now have to do without Smith for the long haul. His absence will put a noticeable crimp in Shepard’s mound staff, meaning veterans Adam Gregory and Eric Horbach must shoulder a greater amount of the pitching load.
Before he departed, Smith stopped Bremen on two hits while striking out six. He was given a 4-0 lead to protect in the second stanza as Ken Gorski (two-run double), Horbach (sacrifice fly) and Bobby Peterka (RBI single) came through after the Astros (8-3, 3-0) had filled the sacks on two walks and a hit batsman.
The advantage grew in the third when Kyle Longfield socked a solo homer and again in the fourth when a pair of hit batsmen set the table for another three-run flurry. Rob Marinec knocked in two teammates with a single and Ricky Mundo had one RBI with his hit. Gorski’s single on the heels of a Braves error made it 9-1 shortly before Smith stepped to the plate.
Seemingly on solid ground, Shepard suddenly wasn’t. Perhaps shaken by what had befallen Smith, the Astros saw their lead reduced by three runs in the fifth and then watched Bremen threaten again in the sixth.
Longfield, who’d already made a couple of good plays in center field, came to the rescue once more as he laid out to make a diving catch near the warning track to quell the budding uprising. DiFoggio pegged that defensive play as the game’s pivotal moment.
“[If] he doesn’t catch that ball, it’s 9-6 with their 3-4-5 hitters [coming up] and a man probably standing at third,” DiFoggio said. “We would have been reeling at that point. Longfield made three great catches.”
What Bremen couldn’t do on Friday the Steelmen accomplished the next day as they exploded for six runs in their first plate appearance and never wavered en route to a mercy-rule triumph in five innings.
“They knocked us around,” DiFoggio said of Joliet Central, which racked up 14 hits. “They hit lasers and they hit bloops.”
And the Astros hit almost nothing. Gregory’s double was one of only two hits mustered by Shepard as Longfield got tagged with a pitching loss.
Even after the defeat, though, the Astros are off to their best start in over a decade. Now the key is to not let the injuries affect them too badly.
“We’ve dug the foxhole,” DiFoggio said. “[We’re] taking fire from all sides and rallying around each other.”
The Astros opened the SSC Red portion of their season in grand style by defeating the Argonauts last Monday and Tuesday. Shepard turned the first game into a rout by amassing nine runs between the fourth and fifth innings.
DiFoggio said Argo had a hand in the Astros’ initial outburst as it issued a pair of walks and hit a batter. But Shepard also did its part as Gorski, Marinec and Smith all had RBI hits and Gregory launched a sacrifice fly.
“So far this year -- and I hope I don’t jinx us -- we have been taking advantage of opportunities given to us,” DiFoggio said. “We’re not letting many of those mistakes other teams make go past. We’re pouncing on them.
“In high school baseball, [I believe] you don’t win games; other teams lose them. Defenses in high school aren’t [always] that good, so you weather the storm and you’re successful.”
Gregory’s bases-clearing triple and Peterka’s RBI single highlighted a five-run fourth and an Argonauts miscue in the fifth created a double-digit that brought the contest to a premature halt.
Gorski’s 3-for-3 effort paced an 11-hit attack behind Horbach, who logged his first win on the hill by fanning nine and allowing only three hits.
While Monday was a breeze for the Astros, beating Argo a second time required a bit more tenacity on Tuesday. Peterka’s three-run homer in the third amounted to the difference.
He finished the day with three hits, which also included a double. Peterka may have been on fire, but the rest of Shepard’s order wasn’t as just one other hit was produced. Luckily for the Astros Gregory (3-0) was equal to the challenge on the mound as he rang up 13 strikeouts while throwing a three-hitter.
DiFoggio wasn’t shocked that the Argonauts put up greater resistance in the rematch.
“You can’t take anybody for granted in conference,” he said. “These kids all know each other and have been playing against each other for a long time and the coaches know each other’s tendencies. So it comes down to who is prepared and who’s willing to fight from beginning to end.”
Shepard, which plated its last run on an Argonauts throwing error, had only three games on tap this week, two of them SSC crossover affairs. After hosting TF South today, the Astros visit Riverside-Brookfield for a nonconference game on Friday.