Baseball: Depth continues helping Grayslake Central win games
When Grayslake Central coach Troy Whalen says he plans on using his entire roster to win games, he's not kidding.
He allowed 18 different players to bat at least once during the Rams' 13-3, five-inning nonconference win over visiting Woodstock on Saturday morning.
Of the Rams' 32 total plate appearances, 21 hitters reached base safely. That equates to a .656 on-base percentage, which is the kind of performance that has catapulted the Rams to a 17-3 record, following their weekend triumph.
"As I've gotten older as a coach ... we carry a lot of kids," Whalen said. "I even told our players before the game, because we were scheduled to play two games today, 'hey guys, we're gonna get everybody in.'
"We tell the kids, be ready. Because I won't be afraid to call on anyone no matter what the situation is."
That mentality extends to Whalen's pitching staff. He hasn't allowed a starting pitcher to throw a complete game all year. In fact, the highest pitch count for any of his players this season is 85.
It's why he didn't hesitate to give junior Zack Antonucci his first varsity start against Woodstock. After allowing the Blue Streaks' first two hitters, Sam Chapman and Travis Cote, to reach base, which led to a first-inning run, Antonucci calmed down, scattering just two hits over the next three innings, en route to his first win as a starter.
"I was a little nervous at first, but also excited because I knew what I was capable of," Antonucci said. "After giving them an early lead, it was great to see our guys answer back with a run right away in our half of the first."
The Rams took the lead for good in the second with a six-run explosion, capped off by senior lefty Charlie Marisca's towering solo blast to center, the first of his two hits -- the other being a fourth-inning single. But he wasn't about to let the lopsided final score go to his or his teammates' heads.
"This game will bite you in a hurry if you take anything for granted," Marisca said. "That's why we always have to bring our A-games, and have chips on our shoulders."
The Rams were reminded of that the hard way briefly a short time later. Leading, 7-1 in the third, a fielding error led to an unearned run. In the fourth, a leadoff walk to Blue Streaks No. 6 hitter Kaden Perkins, followed by a stolen base, a single and a sac fly, made it 7-3 Central. They dodged another bullet in the fifth, when they tightroped their way out of danger following a pair of errors, before blowing the game open for good in the fifth.
"Despite the final score, I liked the amount of pressure we put on them today on the basepaths and at the plate," Woodstock coach Matt Prill said. "We made them work. We stole several bases, were hustling hard down the line, which led to some uncharacteristic mistakes by them. We forced them to make a lot tough plays, and were one play away from big innings multiple times. We can build off these things."
Woodstock (8-9) dropped to a game below .500, but their goals remain bigger than their record.
"We know we're not far away from the postseason," Prill said. "Even though this was a nonconference game, it was a learning experience against a tough opponent. When we return to games in-conference (the Kishwaukee River Conference), which has been tough as nails this spring, days like this will only make us better prepared. We've just gotta clean up the mistakes and little things, like the (eight) walks we allowed."
The Rams, meanwhile, remain unbeaten (12-0) at home, and have won 12 of their last 13. Their two losses to in-state teams have been by a meager four combined runs, with their only other defeat coming against a team from Florida on April 1.
"I have the utmost confidence in every kid in our dugout," Whalen said. "How far will they wind up going the rest of the way? That's going to be completely up to them."