Caravan cause collapse
Vikings, Crusaders both run afoul of Mt. Carmel
By Ken Karrson
Two years ago Mt. Carmel captured a Class 4A baseball championship for the first time.
Don’t be shocked if the Caravan go back for seconds this June.
If last week’s display offered any sort of accurate glimpse at Mt. Carmel’s abilities -- and based on the Caravan’s glossy season record it probably did -- the Chicago Catholic League Blue squad will be a tough out come playoff time. Mt. Carmel was certainly formidable in four league outings against local schools St. Laurence and Brother Rice.
Neither team was able to solve the Caravan, who left both with an uphill climb to regain challenger status within the CCL Blue. That’s especially true for the Vikings, whose two setbacks versus Mt. Carmel were preceded by a pair against defending 4A kingpin Providence Catholic.
“It’s a different spot [for us],” St. Laurence coach Pete Lotus said. “It’s the first time in my 10 years we’re in this position. We have a lot to work on.
“We have good kids -- they work hard and I know it’s been hard on them [to experience this]. I think we’ll get it figured out.”
Rice was able to do some quick rebuilding of confidence at Loyola Academy’s expense. After falling to the Caravan -- once by the mercy rule -- the Crusaders rebounded to defeat the Ramblers 8-4 and 8-5 on Wednesday and Saturday, respectively.
“It was an emotional roller coaster on Monday and Tuesday,” Rice coach John McCarthy said. “We had hit rock bottom on where we were emotionally as far as how good we were. I think we had lost a little bit of self-confidence.
“It was a huge point in the season for us, but I’m proud of the guys for bonding together and coming back. We got stronger [after that].”
Mt. Carmel 10-13
St. Laurence 1-3
Already licking their wounds after a double dip at Providence’s hands, the Vikings were hoping to get back on track last Wednesday. Instead, Caravan sophomore Cameron Hupe stymied St. Laurence’s offense by allowing just four hits while Mt. Carmel banged out 14 against three Vikings hurlers.
While the discrepancy was evident, Lotus didn’t think his pitchers deserved all the blame. He noted they were undermined by a defense that committed four errors and never did settle into a groove last week.
“You’re going to have some rough innings against good teams, but I really expected us to play better [overall],” Lotus said. “It felt like we were down by more than we were [early on]. It was frustrating because I think again we had pretty good pitching.
“We tried to address what it takes to be successful in the Catholic League Blue, but we haven’t been doing some things to make it happen [like] getting clutch hits and making plays [in the field]. We have to remember we’re a little bit young and we don’t have a lot of guys who’ve been through it [before]. We’re feeling our way through things -- that’s a tough way to play.”
The main thing, according to Lotus, is making sure his athletes don’t get discouraged. After last week’s struggles, that became a genuine concern.
“I’ve always thought our kids have done a good job of bouncing back from adversity,” he said. “I don’t see that [right now].”
St. Laurence (14-7, 5-5) trailed only 1-0 through three innings, but the Caravan ripped the game wide open with a four-run fifth. That uprising was sandwiched between two other multiple-run rallies.
Mt. Carmel had several contributors to its noisemaking, most notably Malik Carpenter (three hits, two RBI). Also getting into the act were Scott Kapers (two hits, two RBI), Ako Thomas (two hits, two runs), Josh Stowers (two RBI) and Nick Wheeler (two RBI).
Tommy Farrell and Nick Verta both belted doubles for the Vikings and the former eventually tallied their lone run on Frank Greco’s sacrifice fly.
Greco was the mound man who got roughed up by the Caravan in Saturday’s rematch. Again Mt. Carmel pounded out 14 hits as every one of its starters hit safely.
Carpenter’s grand slam was the most devastating blow unleashed on the Vikings, but six of his teammates delivered a pair of hits and four of those players drove in at least one run.
Amazingly, though, St. Laurence was within 5-3 in the fourth stanza and had men on second and third after scoring all of its runs during that plate appearance. Kevin Aderman singled in two of them and Dan Cummings coaxed a bases-loaded walk from Caravan ace Nelson Munoz, but the rally died out shortly after that.
Munoz, who beat the Vikings 3-2 in the 2014 postseason, rang up eight strikeouts.
Providence Catholic 7-7
St. Laurence 2-1
Greco took the hill against another standout pitcher, the Celtics’ Brent Villasenor, last Monday and again held his own as he fanned seven and scattered eight hits over six innings. Providence outhit the Vikings 13-6 on the day, but St. Laurence still managed to strand 10 baserunners.
Two Vikings were left in scoring position in the second inning and all three bags remained filled at the conclusion of the third. The Celtics scored twice in their second at-bat, using a double and sacrifice fly as payoffs.
Lotus said he didn’t believe his guys were intimidated by the defending state champions and declined to cite that as a possible reason for the failure to capitalize more often.
“We didn’t talk much about it because we’ve competed well with them [in the past],” he said. “This game we had a lot of chances and we could have put a lot more pressure on their pitcher if we had scored early.”
Providence strung together a series of hits to up its lead to 4-0 in the fourth and added a three-spot in its final turn at the plate. That late surge ensured that the Vikings’ solo markers in the sixth and seventh remained merely cosmetic.
Jake Tholl’s groundout and a Celtics error brought in St. Laurence’s runs. Sean Burnette's double was the Vikes’ biggest hit.
Both Providence and the Vikings finished with six hits last Tuesday, but four errors ruined Anthony Robles’ pitching performance on St. Laurence’s behalf. Three of those miscues led to a momentum-changing five-run outburst for the Celtics in the third inning.
“He threw the ball really well,” Lotus said of Robles. “[Strikeouts] are definitely not Anthony’s game. He gets ground balls, but when you don’t field them it’s a bad combination.
“All the games [last week] were real similar. We didn’t play real well [at times]. And when you don’t make some plays against good teams it’ll cost you.”
The Vikings didn’t erase their goose egg until the fifth, doing so on Verta’s groundout. A double play killed off a promising third stanza and a total of four players were left aboard in the fourth, sixth and seventh innings.
Mt. Carmel 10-8
Brother Rice 0-4
Before silencing St. Laurence, Munoz did the same to the Crusaders. Rice (19-6, 7-3) collected just three hits off him last Monday in a game ended by five innings via the mercy rule.
Jake Ridgway (double), Ryan King and Danny Paluch were the only Crusaders to hit safely against Munoz. Mike Schalasky suffered his first loss in five decisions for Rice after walking six and registering no strikeouts.
Mt. Carmel went up 4-0 in the first inning and erupted for six runs in the fifth.
“They took it to us,” McCarthy said. “We gave them opportunities to succeed and they took advantage of it. We learned a lot about ourselves and what it’s going to take to be an elite team come playoff time [from] the pressure Mt. Carmel put on us and the intensity of the game.
“Munoz kept us in check and kept us off-balance [by throwing] different pitches in different counts and their hitters, one through nine, are very good. You don’t get any breaks in the order. We were very impressed with their team.”
Tuesday offered some promise as the Crusaders plated three runs in the second inning. Ryan Kutt’s double got the rally going and King, Ridgway and Michael Massey all supplied RBI singles.
With Kutt setting down eight Caravan batters on third strikes and walking only one, Rice appeared in reasonably good shape. But an unsightly seven errors ultimately haunted the Crusaders as Mt. Carmel roared back to score all of its runs between the fifth and seventh. Augmenting the Crusaders’ miscues were a dozen Caravan hits.
“They’re a fundamentally sound team, but we didn’t play very well,” McCarthy said.
Andrew Dyke’s sixth-inning single knocked in Rice’s final marker.
Brother Rice 8-8
Loyola Academy 4-5
After slipping behind 2-0 in the first 2 ½ innings on Wednesday, the Crusaders were in danger of staying in a funk. In its third plate appearance, however, Rice piled up seven runs as six players had hits and the Ramblers issued three bases-on-balls.
The significant happening, in McCarthy’s opinion, was the single to right field stroked by Colin Shea, the No. 9 man in the order. While not responsible for driving in a run, the hit was notable because Shea is not a regular in the Crusaders’ lineup.
“Here’s a guy who hadn’t played in a week, [but] he comes off the bench to get a hit -- you know that’s not easy to do,” McCarthy said. “That gave everyone a sense of energy and kind of turned things around.
“That’s a guy that’s a senior leader. He goes about his business and doesn’t complain.”
Also part of that rally were Schalasky (two-run single), Dyke (RBI double), King (RBI single), Ridgway (RBI single) and Paluch (RBI fielder’s choice). That was more than enough support for pitcher Jack Guzek, who scattered five hits over six innings, fanned five and walked one.
Schalasky finished with two hits and Massey (single) collected the last RBI.
“We were able to recover after being down early and got a huge win on Wednesday,” McCarthy said. “We felt good [afterward]. We’ll see how big a turning point it is for us.”
At the very least Rice stayed pointed in the right direction on Saturday as it completed a sweep of Loyola behind Schalasky’s seven-strikeout pitching effort and Massey’s 4-for-5 showing that spearheaded an 11-hit attack.
The Crusaders were down 4-3 after three innings but went ahead in the top of the fourth on RBI hits from Massey and Schalasky that followed a Ramblers error and hit batsman. Three more tallies in the sixth put Rice in control as King (RBI single), Schalasky (sacrifice fly), Kutt (double) and Massey (single, stolen base) led the way.
Ridgway (sacrifice fly) provided Rice’s initial run and two hits, a double steal and Loyola error were combined to give the visitors another pair of markers in the third. Four of the Ramblers’ runs came on three homers.