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posted: 5/2/2010 12:01 AM

Fern's souvenir helps Grayslake North slam Woodstock

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There's no way Grayslake North designated hitter Brandon Fern will forget his third at-bat Saturday morning.

His mom, Ann, made sure of it.

Moments after Fern rocked Woodstock North for a grand slam that sailed over the right-field fence in the fourth inning, Ann made a beeline for the ball.

"I'm going to go get that. That ball is mine," she said to the people sitting around her in the stands as she headed for right field.

Fern's mom met up with the players who were sent to retrieve the ball and they dutifully handed it over. Mission accomplished.

The Knights could say the same, thanks to Fern.

His grand slam gave them just enough to get past Woodstock North, 6-5.

The victory moved Grayslake North to 4-20 overall and 3-10 in the Fox Valley Fox. The Knights have won four of their last eight games.

"My parents are kind of crazy about that kind of stuff," Brandon Fern said with a laugh, in reference to them collecting memorabilia for him. "As soon as one goes over the fence, they're the first ones up. They want to be the first ones to get it."

The Ferns have turned into retrievers many times over the course of their son's career, although this is the first time they've gone after a grand slam ball at the varsity level. He said the last time he hit a grand slam was as a 13-year-old in travel baseball.

This season, there have been three other balls for the Ferns to retrieve. The grand slam marks his fourth home run.

"Total, I have well over a dozen (home run) balls at home," Fern said. "Some of them we mark (with the date and opponent). It's kind of cool. But, really at the varsity level, you just have to look at it as another hit. We just needed a hit in that situation."

Down 4-2 with the bases jammed, the Knights desperately needed to do something, anything, to take advantage of a great opportunity.

Part of their problem during an 0-16 start this season is that they have let too many similar situations amount to nothing.

"The way our season has been going, you almost figured that (Brandon's grand slam shot) would hit a bird or something and fall back in," Grayslake North coach Andy Strahan said with a laugh. "We've just had a really tough time hitting in key situations this season. It started right away at the beginning, for like the first seven games or so. We just could not get a big hit with runners in scoring position.

"We were leaving guys on, we would ground out. Then we started to press a little bit and that made it worse. Things have definitely gotten a lot better lately."

Against Woodstock North, which dropped to 4-15 in its first season while playing with no seniors, four juniors and 12 sophomores, Grayslake North rolled up 10 hits and stranded only four runners who were in scoring position.

Ed Tatera was clutch at the plate, driving in 2 runs, one on a sacrifice and one on a double. Matt Robinson also had a nice day offensively. He went 3-for-4 with a double.

Tatera, the Knights' ace, got the win to improve to 3-4 on the mound while sophomore Tom Elias recorded the save.

Elias took over with one out in the sixth and runners at second and third. He got two straight outs to retire the side and then went three-up, three-down in the seventh to close out the game. Two outs in the seventh came on strikeouts.

"Tom was ready to come in and he pitched really well," Strahan said. "You never know how a sophomore is going to react when you put him into a 1-run game. So it was nice to see him perform in a pressure situation like that."

Meanwhile, Woodstock North head coach Mark Tschappat knows all about hoping that young players perform in pressure situations.

For the second time in his career, he is helping to build a program from scratch. He was the first head baseball coach when the doors were opened at Lakes High School about five years ago.

Now, he's doing the same thing at Woodstock North.

"We talk a lot about how we're going to focus on the process and not the product," said Tschappat, whose team went up by 2 runs in the fourth inning on a 2-run homer by Tyler Loesher. Loesher, who went over the fence for the first time this season, was 3-for-3 on the day.

"Right now, we're building the foundation for years to come," Tschappat said. "Wins and losses will be what they are this year. But as long as we're building something, that's the goal."