Stopped by a sprinkle: Richards and Shepard baseball tie after field irrigation system goes awry
By Steve Millar
Shepard baseball coach Frank DiFoggio considered the bizarre ending of the Astros’ regular-season finale against Richards to be appropriate for 2021.
The District 218 rivals were deadlocked in the ninth inning after battling for nearly 3½ hours when the field’s sprinkler system suddenly turned on. Richards coach Jeff Kortz said no one at the field had a key to turn the sprinklers off.
Thus, the game — a nonconference contest because the teams had already played their two South Suburban Red games — ended in a 7-7 tie.
“This was the most unique season of all time and there you go, this is another thing we can add to that list,” DiFoggio said. “This is our neighborhood rival. I went here. Coach Kortz and I know each other really well. We decided to do each other’s Senior Day this year. So, it was a fun game to play.”
Shepard (14-9-1) rallied from a 6-3 deficit with four runs in the sixth inning.
Cole Hermanson and Eric Longfield had RBI singles in the frame, while Owen McGovern drew a bases-loaded walk. The Astros also pushed across a run on a wild pitch.
Richards (10-12-1) came back to tie in the bottom of the sixth with a two-out rally as Kevin Laurencell walked, moved to second on a single by Ovidio Montes (2-for-3) and scored on a base hit by Vinnie Fuentes (2-for-4, three RBIs).
The Bulldogs had a golden opportunity to win it in the bottom of the seventh as an error, a bunt single by Matt Huttner and a Huttner stolen base put runners at second and third with no outs.
Shepard reliever Matt Maloney, though, wriggled out of trouble with the help of his defense and some questionable base running by Richards.
After the runner at third failed to come home on a fly out to center, Jacob Gonzalez blooped a single into short right field.
The runner, waiting to tag in case the ball was caught, got a late break to the plate and was thrown out on a strike from right fielder Joseph Sass. Maloney got the next hitter to ground out to send the game to extra innings.
“Matt did a fantastic job,” DiFoggio said. “I went out there and gave him the option. I said, ‘We can walk the bases loaded, or you can go for the strikeout. What do you want to do?’ He said, ‘I feel really good, let me go for it.’ Then we made a couple good plays, threw the guy out at the plate, so it worked out.”
Junior catcher Nikolai Bucio went 2-for-4 with two RBIs for Shepard.
“We kept going back and forth,” Bucio said. “It was pretty cool just to be in a game like that. A lot of games are just one team dominating and it’s not as fun. This was definitely the craziest way to end a back-and-forth game, though.”
Before the game, Richards celebrated its seven seniors.
“Our seniors have hung in there,” Kortz said. “What happened last year killed some development for them. We would have liked to see them get those at-bats last year and get those innings on the mound and keep learning. COVID has hurt our bonding. Our ping pong tournaments downstairs and all the little things we do just aren’t there. But our seniors have kept battling.”
Laurencell scored three runs for Richards, while Huttner was 2-for-4 on his Senior Day.
“It was a great day to play some ball,” Huttner said. “It was a good game up until the end. We made a couple errors on the bases and in the field. We didn’t get guys in off the bases when we needed to. It was a great experience, though. I love the program and love playing for coach Kortz.”