After facing a brutal schedule to open the 2021 season and having to face top area teams like Homewood-Flossmoor, Joliet West, and Mount Carmel twice, the Oak Lawn Community High School baseball found its record at 0-5. Despite some strong efforts, the Spartans just couldn’t crack into the win column. Facing top pitchers and daunting lineups game after game made life difficult.
However, that stretch of games proved to give the team experience against top pitchers in big situations and laid the groundwork for what a solid postseason run might require. And now, the Spartans are starting to cash in on those early season challenges.
Oak Lawn has already beaten conference rivals Reavis, Richards, and Shepard. Tuesday, the Spartans completed the season sweep of Evergreen Park with a 6-0 combined no-hit shutout. And as of Tuesday, the Spartans had a record of 13-10 overall, but more importantly, a record of 13-2 in South Suburban Conference play. In fact, they now control their own destiny for a SSC Red Championship.
“Some of our young guys never even played high school baseball because of missing last year,” said head coach Bill Gerny. “It was good to see teams that were more polished than us so early in the season.”
Seniors Ben Cash and Ethan Kulpinski continue to lead the team to success with outstanding pitching performances and huge hits in clutch situations. Both Cash and Kulpinski pitch at the top of the rotation, hit in the middle of the lineup, and play first base when not taking the bump. Cash is 5-1 on the mound with 50 strikeouts in 35 innings while Kulpinski is 3-3 with two saves and 48 punchouts in 29 innings pitched. The dynamic senior duo is leading the team by example.
“Having played varsity as freshmen, they are in a good position to be leaders on and off the field,” Gerny said. “They have both exceeded my expectations.”
The Spartans also showcase sophomores Jack McGlynn and Cristian Ruiz, who both throw high heat, and it makes for a heavily armed group on the mound. These two have started games, closed out games, and generally improved the depth in pitching. Ruiz doubles as a middle infielder, while McGlynn does damage at the plate and can man the hot corner.
“McGlynn has really embraced being a teammate and is open to doing anything we ask of him,” Gerny said. “We are looking for these two to step up this year and in the future.”
And behind this strong pitching, the Spartan defense continues to improve. Senior Steven Hebel unselfishly moved to the outfield for leadership and really made a difference, sophomore Angel Tapia sports a strong arm and good receiving skills at catcher, and Nick Vittori plays a solid third base. This much-improved defense since the early games is a shining example of how in-game experience is paying off with late-season success.
“Having Vittori at third, Chris Rivas at shortstop and Ruiz at second for a few solid weeks now, they have gotten more fluid and confident out there,” Gerny said. “The defense is coming together.”
And now the offense is starting to heat up as well with Rivas using the entire field in the lead-off spot and Cash, Kulpinski, and Vittori driving in runs. The Spartans are certainly clicking on all cylinders. As their Frank Sinatra victory song says, “Start spreading the news…”