HEADLINE: Royally flushed
SUBHEAD: Class 4A king knocked off twice by Crusaders
By Ken Karrson
The 2014 king got crowned in 2015.
Providence Catholic ruled over all of Class 4A last spring, and chances are good the Celtics will not go down easily once this year’s postseason tournament commences. But while the future still holds promise, the present left Providence empty-handed.
Brother Rice accomplished that twice last week, once in a pitchers’ duel and the second time in a romp. By virtue of 1-0 and 11-1 wins over the Celtics on Monday and Wednesday, the Crusaders served official notice that whatever had been ailing them the week before when they fell twice to Mt. Carmel was nowhere to be found.
Rice was unable to complete a clean sweep as St. Rita edged it 7-6 in another Chicago Catholic League Blue contest on Saturday, but that defeat did nothing to temper Crusaders coach John McCarthy’s enthusiasm for his squad’s positive reversal of fortunes.
“We could have decided we were going to feel sorry for ourselves [after the Mt. Carmel losses] and say, ‘We tried, but it didn’t happen,’” McCarthy said. “We were backed into a corner, [but] we fought our way out. I’m very proud of the type of kids we have. I’m excited about this group.”
That group includes sophomore pitchers Ryan Kutt and Jack Guzek, both of whom managed to stifle Providence’s offense. Kutt’s masterful three-hit, seven-strikeout performance was necessary on Monday as Rice (21-7, 9-4) managed only five hits itself.
The Crusaders didn’t break a scoreless tie until the fifth inning. Ryan King’s bunt single and stolen base set up the opportunity, a passed ball moved him to third and he crossed the plate on Colin Shea’s groundout.
McCarthy was effusive in his praise for Kutt, who made sure that meager output was good enough for Rice to prevail.
“Ryan pretty much put us on his back and said, ‘We’re not losing today,’” McCarthy said. “It was pretty cool to be a part of. He changed speeds really well, attacked the [strike] zone and kept them off-balance -- he couldn’t do much more [for us].”
Guzek benefited from a far greater degree of offensive backing last Wednesday as the Crusaders twice erupted for five runs in an inning. The first of those was capped by Andrew Dyke’s grand slam while the latter rally was fueled by clutch hits from Kutt (two-run single), King (two-run triple) and Jake Ridgway (RBI double).
“Wednesday was probably our most productive game of the season,” McCarthy said. “We bunted real well, ran the bases real well -- we did all the little things to separate ourselves from Providence. Our hitters just did a great job.”
Ridgway also picked up an RBI with his third-inning groundout that chased in King (double) and Danny Paluch singled in a run for Rice. Not to be ignored amid the 13-hit fireworks was Guzek’s six-hit mound effort that kept his ledger perfect at 4-0.
While both Kutt and Guzek are young, the former had already gotten his feet wet by playing varsity ball for much of his freshman season. Guzek is going through upper-level diamond wars for the first time, which makes his success to date especially noteworthy.
“He fought through a back injury and Jack’s been absolutely fantastic [since then],” McCarthy said. “It has a lot to do with him as a person. He’s a steady kid that works so hard and cares so much about the team.
“It was a good week for us. I liked our approach and we played really, really well. It gave us a sense of confidence that we were ready to make the steps to become a great team.”
St. Rita 7
Brother Rice 6
The Mustangs slowed the Crusaders’ growth but not enough to discourage McCarthy or his athletes. And why should they have been seeing as how St. Rita needed to rally late in order to dispatch Rice?
The Crusaders were ahead 5-3 after batting in the top of the fifth and maintained a lead until the Mustangs’ final plate appearance. Michael Massey had two hits and two RBI for Rice and Dyke poked an RBI double. The latter also tallied in the sixth when he alertly raced home while Kutt was caught in a rundown.
Other RBI came from Paluch (bases-loaded walk) and Max Hughes (groundout).
“It was just an incredible baseball game,” McCarthy said. “We gave it everything we had for seven innings. We came up short, but we can live with that. It doesn’t mean they’re better than us, just on this day.
“I’m very impressed with the direction we’re heading in terms of our willingness to compete. We still haven’t played our best baseball, [but] we’ve played in big-game atmospheres with a lot of pressure and I feel we’re battle-tested.”
A St. Rita rematch was slated for this past Monday and two confrontations with St. Laurence were also on the Crusaders’ schedule. They venture outside the Catholic League Blue to face Richards in a game that had gotten underway last Friday but was halted by rain after less than two full innings had been completed.