Bulldogs lock up SSC Red championship
The Bulldogs are back on top.
A season that began on a high note and has pretty much remained there paid its first dividends on Saturday when Richards officially locked up its third South Suburban Conference Red title in four years. The Bulldogs did so by defeating host TF North 8-3 in a conference crossover while their closest Red Division pursuer, Evergreen Park, was being shut out by SSC Blue leader Lemont.
“It’s been a very nice season,” Richards coach Brian Wujcik said. “I really did not anticipate us [having] the potential to go 17-2 [in league play].”
Wins over Argo this past Monday and Wednesday would give the Bulldogs that exact mark. While Wujcik certainly wasn’t about to assume success against the Argonauts before the games were played, the veteran boss figured everything would be fine if Richards simply followed the script.
“Our MO the last couple years was that we played our best baseball at some time other than heading into the playoffs,” Wujcik said. “One of our downfalls last year was the big inning [against us], but we’ve stayed consistent the whole way [in 2014].
“We don’t have any Division I studs, but we have a good group of guys that are playing very well. We’ve not lost two games in a row this year.”
And in the Bulldogs’ case, the numbers don’t lie. Three players carry averages at or above .400, and as a team Richards (22-6, 15-2) is at .384. Its overall earned-run average is an acceptable 3.50, while its fielding percentage is a crisp .948.
The Bulldogs have committed only 39 errors in 28 contests.
“At the high school level, when you can average less than two errors a game, you’ll win a lot of games,” Wujcik said. “At any given time, at least two aspects [of pitching, defense and hitting] have been working for us.”
Richards got a little bit of everything in its conquest of the Meteors. Two-thirds of its nine hits went for extra bases, including Charlie Zeschke’s solo homer in the second inning. Zeschke also poked a double, as did Noel Castro (RBI), Shawn Chiaramonte, Shane Mills and Nick Mejia.
Castro finished with three RBI in all, while Mills (single) and AJ Sanchez (sacrifice fly) each added one. Interestingly, Wujcik wasn’t overly impressed with what he saw from his offense.
“I don’t want to make it sound like we were terrible because we did score eight runs,” he said. “But we were kind of lackluster [at times]. We didn’t always have a good approach at the plate and we popped up a lot.
“We have to continue to build and strive to play a perfect game, so when the playoffs come we’re not pressing for it. I don’t want guys to think they [really] have to play a perfect game because that puts too much pressure on you, but we have to minimize the opportunities we give the other team.”
None of the Bulldogs’ flaws mattered much to TF North, which solved Richards starter Eric Mallo for seven hits but could never generate a full-blown rally. Mallo struck out four and walked just one.
TF South 1
Coached by Richards alumnus Matt Tiffy, the Rebels were no match for the Bulldogs last Monday. Instead, the latter rode Chiaramonte’s grand slam to a comfortable first-inning lead and never lost control of the proceedings.
“I know that he wants to win this game badly,” Wujcik said of his former player. “He always gets his guys up and we’ve had some battles with them.”
Not this time. After three stanzas, Richards’ advantage had grown to 9-0 and it was poised to grab a slaughter-rule triumph, which it did by scoring twice more in the fourth. Nate Natividad (three hits, including a double), Sanchez (two-run double), Castro (double, two RBI) and Mike Marchione (RBI single) were the Bulldogs’ headliners.
The game was the 13th this season in which Richards amassed a double-digit run total.
“The only thing that frightens me a little bit is the number of one-run losses we have — we’ve lost more close games than we’ve won,” Wujcik said. “We have to learn we’re not going to bludgeon opponents every time out. The farther you get into the playoffs, the less you’re going to see that.”
Sanchez earned the pitching victory by tossing a two-hitter, fanning six and walking no one.
Brother Rice 3
A bases-loaded walk to Mike Massey and Kevin Sullivan’s RBI single gave the Crusaders the boost they needed in the bottom of the fifth to slip past the Bulldogs last Tuesday in Chicago.
A misplayed bunt also helped out Brother Rice, which was kept from doing greater damage by Richards reliever Eric Ruge. Ruge forced the Crusaders to leave the sacks filled by registering a strikeout and inducing a pair of pop flies.
The Bulldogs collected their only runs in the fourth inning on Castro’s double and a double-play ball. The twin killing came in a bases-loaded, no-out situation and prevented Richards from inflicting more harm upon Rice.
Jake Barry also had an RBI hit for the Crusaders, who outhit the Bulldogs 8-4. Freshman Ryan Kutt pocketed the win while whiffing seven. Ryan Thompson took the loss for Richards.
TF South 000 10 — 1
Richards 414 2x — 11
Richards 2B: Castro, Mills, Natividad, Sanchez. HR: Chiaramonte. RBI: Chiaramonte 4, Castro 2, Sanchez 2, Marchione. WP: Sanchez (5-0).
Richards 000 200 0 — 2
Brother Rice 010 020 x — 3
Richards 2B: Castro. RBI: Castro. LP: Thompson (4-2).
Brother Rice 2B: K. Biondic. RBI: Barry, Massey, Sullivan. WP: Kutt (5-2).
Richards 122 100 2 — 8
TF North 002 000 1 — 3
Richards 2B: Castro, Chiaramonte, Mejia, Mills, Zeschke. HR: Zeschke. RBI: Castro 3, Mills, Sanchez, Zeschke. WP: Mallo (4-0).