A day after his team fell to 1-5 in the South Suburban Red on April 10, Shepard coach Frank DiFoggio bypassed a traditional practice for a classroom session.
The long-time Astros coach showed his struggling team some film of the 2005 Shepard club that overcome adversity to capture a regional championship.
“We saw how hard they worked, how they ran every ball out and just grinded out games,” Shepard infielder/pitcher Jeremy Dryier said. “Ever since that day, we’ve been a different team.”
Since that meeting, Shepard has won 10 of 12 games, including seven consecutive conference matches.
The most recent victory occurred on Monday against Oak Lawn. Pitcher Nick Medlicott registered the complete game and Dryier contributed three hits and three RBI during a 5-1 conference win over the Spartans in Palos Heights.
Don’t look now, but Shepard is now tied atop the conference standings with Oak Lawn at 8-5.
Medlicott, a left-hander, scattered four hits, walked three and struck out seven during a 119-pitch performance. The senior, who has spent
his entire high school career on the varsity, has noticed his teammates playing more relaxed and with more confidence during the streak.
“We had so much pressure, mainly from ourselves, building to this year,” Medlicott said. “We needed to relax. It’s just a game.”
Medlicott has not allowed an earned run his last four starts, covering 24 innings. The only run he allowed against Oak Lawn occurred in the
first inning and it was unearned.
Bob Kametas stroked a two-out single and advanced to second base on an error. Matt Dunne followed with a double that allowed Kametas to score. If not for the error, Kametas is likely on third base instead of scoring.
The Spartans lead was short-lived. The Astros (11-11) tied the game up in their half of the first against Dunne on a single by Adam Samad
that scored Dryier, who had doubled.
Shepard took the lead for good in the second. Bobby Peterka singled home Matt Schmeski (2-for-3) and Dryier later singled home pinch-runner Kevin Knoerzer for a 3-1 lead.
The Astros padded their lead in the fourth. Dryier laced a hanging curveball into the left-center field gap, scoring Jake Hart and Knoerzer for a 5-1 edge.
“I’m seeing the ball pretty good,” Dryier said. “Whenever Nick pitches, I usually hit.”
Oak Lawn (11-10) loaded the bases with one out in the sixth. Medlicott, however, racked up a strikeout and ground out to end that threat.
In the seventh, the Spartans had runners on the corners with two out. Medlicott ended the game by getting the batter to popout to Dryier at second base.
Dunne allowed five runs on eight hits. He didn’t walk a batter and struck out nine in a 102-pitch performance.
DiFoggio said the reason for the pivotal classroom session nearly a month ago was simple.
“Sometimes kids don’t put things in perspective,” he said. “Stop putting so much pressure on yourself, relax and have fun. Since then,
we’ve been playing as a team, playing as a group.”
The two teams square off again Tuesday with Dryier on the mound for Shepard and Oak Lawn likely handing the ball to its ace, Kametas.
“It feels so good to be competing for this thing,” said Medlicott of the conference championship. “We’re in control of our own destiny.
It’s on us; not anyone else.”