JOLIET – As strong, gusting winds consistently pointed the U.S. flag directly to his spot on the mound, John Riordan knew that it would be a great day to be a starting pitcher.
And with the stakes high for his University of St. Francis baseball team, as they hoped to close ground on Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference leader Saint Xavier University on Friday at Joliet Route 66 Stadium in a clash of the top two teams in the CCAC, Riordan was dominant, shutting down the Cougars, who were averaging 9.8 runs in league play.
He allowed just a two-out infield single in the fifth through his first seven innings and that helped them take the early lead and maintain it to claim a 4-2 win. Riordan (6-2) tossed a four-hitter, allowed two earned runs and struck out five in eight innings. Hunter Murawski (Reed-Custer) got his fifth save after getting out a jam in the ninth.
The senior right-hander, who has been a four-year regular for the Saints both on the mound and in the infield, has a career record of 21-11 in 47 appearances, owns a .264 average in 144 games and has a fielding percentage of .933 while at USF. The teams ended the series with a Saturday twin bill in Chicago’s Mount Greenwood.
“It was a windy day, so I wasn’t afraid that they would hit too many balls over the outfielders’ heads,” Riordan said. “So I wanted to stay in the zone and let the fielders make the plays. This was definitely a pitchers’ day. They scored a few on me, but luckily on a day like today, when the wind pushes in, the ball stays up for our outfielders. And Hunter has been awesome all year by coming in and throwing strikes, and has had a great season so far.
“Today was a big win and we’re at Saint X on Saturday. We had a tough weekend last weekend and came into this week knowing how important it was to win this series, so getting this first one is big. Every year, coach [Brian] Michalak makes a pretty difficult nonconference schedule, so we’re pretty balanced come conference and so far, so good. This is closest team that I’ve been on, with a lot of personalities and good bonding.”
The Saints, who improved to 24-17 overall, 16-6 in the CCAC and 17-3 at home, used a nine-hit attack to help them score twice in the second to move in front for good, and added a run in the sixth to offset a two-run eighth by SXU (27-12, 19-3). The Cougars owned a three-game lead over USF with eight league games left going into Saturday’s games.
In USF’s second inning, New Lenox’s Anthony Faron (3 for 4, two runs) led off with a single and Lockport’s John Tesch followed with a double. Faron scored on a grounder by John Peterson and Tesch came in on a single by Adam Cibulka. In the sixth, Faron doubled and scored on a grounder by Shawn Harper (Providence Catholic) as he beat the throw home.
Jared Jones (Joliet Catholic) took the loss after allowing four runs on nine hits in eight innings. SXU provided some drama in the eighth with two runs, but Faron doubled home Joe McGuire (Lockport) later that inning. In the ninth, Murawski got out of trouble after the first two men reached by getting a game-ending double play.
Seeing his team win the opener was important to Brian Michalak, the eighth-year head coach from Lockport who played for USF from 1980-83 under Gordie Gillespie, who retired in 2011 as the all-time winningest coach in college baseball history with 1,893 victories in 59 seasons.
“We’ve still got a lot of work to do,” Michalak said. “John pitched real well and we made some plays, even though the ball wasn’t going to go very far. Our pitching has been very good since we got back home and we’ve done well in pitching, defense and offense, and we have bounced back after two or three losses in stretches. We’ve got a lot of guys in new roles and it’s taken a little bit, but I think that they’ve adjusted.”