Class 4A St. Laurence Regional
Hosts have the most
Vikings slip past Spartans to win crown
By Ken Karrson
Home-field advantage was exactly that for St. Laurence on Saturday -- barely.
Whatever edge the Vikings might have had as host of their own Class 4A regional was razor thin. In essence, they were 180 feet better than Oak Lawn.
That was the distance separating Spartan Ivan Georgelos from home plate in the seventh inning. After driving in Oak Lawn’s initial marker of the day with an infield hit, Georgelos eventually represented the tying run but got stranded at second.
As a result, St. Laurence emerged with a 3-2 triumph that netted it a sixth consecutive regional championship. The Vikings meet Chicago Catholic League Blue rival St. Rita today in a semifinal of the latter’s sectional.
The winner of that game will face off against either Mt. Carmel or Simeon on Saturday for the championship. And in St. Laurence coach Pete Lotus’ opinion, the Vikings’ narrow escape in the regional finale could prove beneficial as the going gets tougher.
“We didn’t put them away and we let them hang around,” he said of the Spartans, “but hopefully it’s good for us in a few ways. It shows us [that] when we have [scoring] opportunities we have to take advantage of them at this time of the season.
“And the silver lining was we faced a lot of adversity. Teams that can overcome that put themselves in a good position.”
The Vikings (23-11) certainly appeared to be in just such a place after only one inning. A few Oak Lawn bobbles contributed to a two-run St. Laurence rally that placed the Spartans in chase mode the entire day.
“Getting a run right away was big for us,” Lotus said. “At that point, even though they gave us a couple runs, I thought we did a good job.”
“I think our guys were a little nervous [at first],” Oak Lawn coach Bill Gerny said. “If we catch the ball, we’re getting out of there with no runs and it’s a whole new ballgame.”
The sluggish start was similar to the one that dogged the Spartans in a 2014 regional encounter with Mt. Carmel. In that earlier instance, things quickly spiraled out of control and Oak Lawn suffered a season-ending mercy-rule defeat.
Not so here. The Spartans (20-15) improved defensively after their initial miscues -- center fielder Bobby Beard stretched out to make a catch in the fourth inning that stranded a pair of Vikings on the bases and third baseman Joe Dodaro also made a diving play of his own that prevented St. Laurence from getting two runners in scoring position during another at-bat.
“Our guys battled right up to the last pitch,” Gerny said. “They didn’t back down from the challenge. They came out and competed the way the coaches hoped and thought they would.
“I couldn’t be prouder of our guys. I thought we played our best game of the season and did everything but outscore them.”
Jack Cavanaugh’s single upped the Vikings’ edge to 3-0, but that was to be the end of the pain inflicted upon Oak Lawn pitcher Boo Quillin, recently named the South Suburban Conference Red Player of the Year. The Spartans’ work in the field and some erratic baserunning by St. Laurence conspired to short-circuit one promising inning for the home team.
“That part of the game was frustrating, especially the way [Saturday] was with the weather,” Lotus said. “It rained the entire game, we had the tarp out about four times and we lost a little momentum. It got too close there at the end for sure.”
Vikings pitcher Frank Greco didn’t have to deal with many threats through the first six frames. John Roberts and Beard (double) both hit safely in the second, but a double play was sandwiched in between and a sixth-inning pickoff kept Oak Lawn from getting two runners on in that plate appearance.
Nevertheless, Gerny was satisfied with how his batters looked for the most part.
“We weren’t striking out a lot,” he said. “Our guys had good at-bats and were making solid contact.”
It finally paid off in the seventh as the Spartans did some noisemaking. Justin Swatek’s double opened the stanza, Beard got plunked by a pitch and a passed ball put them both in scoring position.
When Ryne Melnik also was hit with a pitch, Gerny was anticipating a big inning. But Lotus successfully argued that Melnik had initiated contact with the ball and the latter eventually struck out.
Gerny said “that changed the dynamic of the game,” but Georgelos’ hit and Matt Witkowski’s groundout brought Oak Lawn within one and set the stage for Quillin. Gerny felt the Spartans “couldn’t have scripted it any better,” but Vikings reliever Zach Erdman retired Quillin for the third out on a hard-hit grounder.
“Not many people were probably giving us much credit, but we’re a much better team [than in March]” Gerny said. “This was one of the most emotional games I’ve ever been a part of and I think our players became better people at dealing with life because of it.”
Lotus was understandably happy with his own guys too and hoped they appreciated their accomplishment.
“I don’t want them to take for granted winning a regional,” he said. “A lot of teams didn’t get the opportunity to do that. I’m really proud of how we stuck together through that bad week-and-a-half [in the early part of May] and stuff we haven’t been forced to deal with for a while.”
St. Laurence 11
Lotus’ biggest concern last Wednesday was how the Vikings would view the Broncos. Coming off a solid showing in the competitive Steve Bajenski Tournament against some familiar opponents, St. Laurence players could have easily overlooked their regional semifinal foe.
“I definitely worried about how our kids’ approach would be,” Lotus said. “Going from playing in that nice [Standard Bank] stadium with literally hundreds of people in it and a lot of excitement to our little field [was a big change].
“It was very easy to get up for those [Bajenski games], but we had no idea about Kenwood or who they played. We definitely didn’t want to be thinking ahead at all. Our focus was just to come out and play a really good game.”
That’s pretty much what the Vikings did, beginning with a three-run opening frame. They went on to score in four of their ensuing at-bats as well, two of which equaled the initial scoring output.
Cavanaugh paced the St. Laurence attack with a 3-for-3 performance that included four RBI. Also chipping in were Nick Verta (two hits, two RBI), Greco (RBI single, RBI groundout), Mike Finger (RBI double), Kevin Aderman (RBI single) and Tommy Farrell (double). Prospering behind all that offensive support was John Riordan, who scattered five hits and struck out that same number of Broncos.
“We played pretty well for the most part,” Lotus said.
Oak Lawn 13
Gerny had no complaints either about the Spartans’ display on Thursday. Oak Lawn removed all doubt as to the semifinal outcome by exploding for nine first-inning runs, an eruption greatly aided by seven Mustangs errors.
The Spartans also did their part as Roberts (two-run double), Georgelos (triple), Dodaro and Melnik all stroked RBI hits. Quillin and Witkowski both provided run-scoring singles in the next inning and Witkowski’s grounder plated Oak Lawn’s 13th tally in the fourth.
“It was nice because it took all the pressure off,” Gerny said of his team’s game-opening volley. “Being able to take care of a team early was good for our guys. It showed them how good they’ve become.”
Rodrigo Zavala was the pitcher of record for the Spartans, who gave Gerny his winningest season to date.
“This is a tough group to let go of,” he said of his seniors. “But there’s a lot to build on.”