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Cats put in extra effort : Sports : Oswego Ledger-Sentinel : Hometown Newspaper for Oswego and Montgomery, Illinois
Cats put in extra effort
After shutout win over Westmont, team defeats Addison to advance

by Laura M. Medina


Wins and losses came in waves for the Oswego Cats throughout the regular season, and things weren't much different in the playoffs, as they won three of their first four games in the American Amateur Baseball Congress (AABC) North Central Regional this weekend.

But the Cats' postseason push ended with Sunday's 7-1 loss to Lombard in the title contest at Madison Meadows.

With the win, the Orioles, owners of a 5-0 mark in the double-elimination bracket and 26-5 overall to lead the North Division in the Chicago Suburban Baseball League, clinched a berth to the Stan Musial World Series at Farmingdale State University (N.Y.), starting yesterday (Wednesday) and running through Sunday.

Things were looking up for Oswego (21-19, 14-12) heading into the tournament, as it had won three of its final four regular-season contests following a four-game slide. Consistency was perhaps the one thing the team had lacked in the summer campaign, with its longest winning streak (four games, June 21-24) immediately preceding another four-game skid (June 26-29).

Additionally, field manager Todd Miller had been hoping for similar stability from his players on the field, in the batter's box and on the mound. All three aspects of the game seemed to come together at the right time, starting with last Thursday's 6-0 victory over Westmont at Jackie's Field of Dreams.

"All three phases of the game came together - pitching was good, defense was good, and we hit the ball, so we can't ask for anything more than that," Miller said. "We lost a little bit of energy midway through the game, but when we put up four runs there, that did them in, and that kind of ended their night."

Right-hander Brandon Thielk (University of Arizona) tossed seven scoreless innings, allowing six hits, walking one and hitting another while fanning six in earning the win. He worked with an early lead after a sacrifice fly from center fielder Clay Schuler (Valparaiso University) helped left fielder Chris Hill (North Central College) tag up at home in the bottom of the first.

"In the beginning, it's a little bit tense, you've got the nerves going and stuff, and (scoring early) just kind of opens things up, so you can relax," Thielk said. "I personally prefer to pitch in closer games - it's a lot more fun - but it definitely helps when you put a couple of runs across. We just kind of built off that and ran away with it."

Oswego added four more runs in the third on an RBI-single from shortstop Rick Tormey (Hamline University) and Schuler's two-run triple. Schuler, who went 2-for-3 with four RBIs on the night, provided another insurance run in the fourth on a single that brought Tormey home.

"You just kind of go with the flow really," Thielk said. "These are all usually going to be close games. You don't expect to run away with them like this, but it definitely gives you confidence moving into the next day."

The Cats turned in another gem in Friday's 1-0 extra-innings win versus Addison at Madison Meadows in Lombard. Left-hander Andy Grunewald (Park University) conceded six hits and a walk, while striking out two in six shutout innings, and right-hander Dominick Tatone (Judson University) gave up a walk in the final two frames to eventually earn the win.

Offensively, Oswego managed just seven hits against the Braves' right-handed starter. The deciding run, meanwhile, was scored off of a sacrifice fly from first baseman Kevin Loukota (Northeastern Illinois University) in the top of the eighth that allowed second baseman Adam Lipscomb (Aurora University) to tag up at home.

Schuler went 3-for-4 in Friday's game, but came up lame after rounding first in his last at-bat and was limited to pinch-hitting duties in the final three games of the tournament, leaving the Cats without one of their top offensive contributors.

His offense could have come in handy on a busy Saturday, when the Cats opened with a 5-4 walk-off loss versus the host Orioles and ended with a 5-3 win against the Muskegon (Mich.) Marlins.

In Game 1, Oswego jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the top of the third on Lipscomb's sacrifice fly that gave shortstop Devin Ambrose (Tiffin University) a chance to tag up at home.

Lombard got its run back in the fifth on an overthrow, but the Cats regained the lead in the sixth on Hill's sacrifice fly that allowed designated hitter Ryan O'Dell (Edgewood College) to score.

The Orioles, however, tallied three in the bottom half of the inning on consecutive RBI-singles to jump ahead 5-2 off of right-handed starter Cody Love (Aurora University), who gave up five runs, seven hits and three walks while striking out two in six innings.

Oswego knotted up the score with single runs in the seventh and eighth on O'Dell's sacrifice fly and Ambrose's fielder's choice, respectively, putting the game on the line in the ninth, when a bases-loaded single off of right-handed reliever Ryan Millan (Elmhurst College) sealed Lombard's victory.

Millan gave up a run, two hits and three walks (two intentional) with a strikeout in the final three innings.

Game 2 was a quiet one for the Cats' offense, which was no-hit by Muskegon's left-handed starter until the sixth inning. In the meantime, the Marlins racked up three runs - one in the first on a wild pitch and one apiece in the second and the fourth, both on RBI-singles - off of right-hander Josh Kwasny (Aurora University).

In the sixth, a walk to catcher Mike Cherven (Aurora University) and an error in center fielder Kendall Interial's at-bat started things out for the Cats. Ambrose then singled for the game's first hit, third baseman Anthony Amedei III (Aurora University) reached on a run-scoring error, Interial (Robert Morris - Springfield) scored on a passed ball and Lipscomb's sacrifice brought Ambrose home to tie things up at 3-3 in the sixth.

Right-hander Kelse Gengler (North Central College) came on in relief in the seventh and gave up three hits and two walks with a strikeout in three scoreless innings after Kwasny's five-hit, four-walk, three-strikeout effort in the previous six frames.

Meanwhile, Oswego benefitted from what ended up being a two-run, inside-the-park home run for O'Dell.

"I thought I hit it well, but the ball wasn't carrying (Saturday night)," O'Dell said. "I saw him catch it, but then he dropped it. That's playoff baseball. The ball's going to bounce one way or the other, and it bounced ours, so we're playing (Sunday)."

O'Dell's hit appeared to have been caught by the right fielder, but he hit the fence and seemed to drop the ball.

The Marlins' defense was seemingly unsure what do next, but both Lipscomb and O'Dell maintained their poise and finished running the bases. After a lengthy review, the umpire ruled that the ball was still in play after the right fielder fell and dropped it, so Oswego ended up with a 5-3 lead, the eventual victory and a place in Sunday's game against Lombard.

Even after a hard-fought win, the Cats' game plan was clear.

"We were really flat (against Muskegon)," O'Dell said. "Lombard is a great team, and we have to be ready from the get go. We got lucky this game, sat around six innings with no energy. You can't do that; we need to show up ready to play."

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