Photo by Jeff Vorva
St. Laurence sophomore pitcher Marius Balandas bears down in his victory over Mt. Carmel on Saturday.
A fan arrived at the St. Laurence/Mt. Carmel baseball game at Haggerty Field in Chicago a little late on Saturday morning.
He looked and then squinted at the scoreboard, which showed that St. Laurence had scored nine runs in the top of the first inning.
“Holy (deleted)!” he said. “Is that NINE runs?”
That reaction came moments after one of the Mt. Carmel players walked off the field in disgust and shouted a dark oath of his own.
Now that’s putting the blue in the Chicago Catholic League Blue.
The powerhouse league got off to a wild start including St. Laurence’s shocking 11-1, five-inning, slaughter-rule victory as well as Brother Rice’s 16-1 slaughter-rule victory over Loyola in Wilmette and St. Rita’s 2-0 victory over three-time defending Illinois High School Association Class 4A state champ Providence.
There will likely be more cussing in anger and amazement before this season is done. After all, the stakes and emotions are high in a league that arguably has had the most success in state play in recent years. In seven of the past eight years, the Class 4A state championship game has seen either one or two CCL Blue teams participate.
Another wild year appears to be in store, if Saturday is any indication.
The preseason rankings from the Prep Baseball Report website saw Brother Rice as the No. 1-ranked team in the state with St. Laurence third. Things got shuffled around a bit after Rice went on the road and out of state to suffer some losses against powerhouse national teams in the USA Baseball National High School Tournament and fell to ninth. St. Laurence took over the No. 1 spot.
Heading into Saturday, CCL Blue teams had played a crossover game against each of seven CCL White teams, which counted in their league record and the eight Blue teams combined for a 50-6-1 record.
Brother Rice (which went 21-0 in league play last year), Mt. Carmel and Loyola each posted 7-0 marks against White teams while St. Laurence, Providence and St. Rita were 6-1. St. Francis was 5-1-1 and Marmion 6-2.
Now it’s time to mix it up against each other for 14 games and Saturday was just the beginning.
The St. Laurence triumph was the most surprising as the No. 1 team in the state according to PBR dominated against No. 4 Caravan. The Vikings scored nine in the first with the big blow coming via Zach Verta’s grand slam over the right-center fence. Matt McCormick drove in a pair of runs while Tim Molloy, Tommy Farrell and John Peterson also brought runs home in the first.
That gave sophomore pitcher Marius Balandis a lot of breathing room and he responded by allowing a run on three hits with seven strikeouts to improve to 5-0 and the Vikings’ pitching depth is even more dangerous this season with his presence.
Ryan Kutt had three doubles and four RBI and was the winning pitcher as Brother Rice whipped Loyola. Pat Mayo added three hits and drove in three runs to give the Crusaders their 10th straight win.
St. Rita’s Steve Washilweski shut out Providence in New Lenox.
There are plenty of huge games coming up in this league but it appears the two-game series between Brother Rice and St. Laurence on May 10 (in Chicago) and May 11 (in Burbank) could be the main event.