Hoffman, Lakes top Antioch as Gregory returns
The more Lakes pitcher Chris Hoffman kept the bases spotless, the more his teammates in the dugout belted out the word "Dirty."
They weren't referring to Hoffman's gray baseball pants, which were saturated with infield dirt as the result of his 3 stolen bases.
Rather, they were speaking of Hoffman's filthy pitches, several of which buckled the knees of Antioch hitters.
"My changeup has been my (best) pitch over the last couple of years," Hoffman said after pitching a 2-hit shutout over 6 innings in visiting Lakes' 12-0 win over its crosstown rival Tuesday. "The curve was just pretty good today. ... I was throwing a lot of fastballs, actually."
Hoffman's gem hiked Lakes' record to 8-10 and 2-3 in the North Suburban Prairie Division and spoiled the surprising season debut of Antioch senior Joe Gregory.
"In our 15 meetings, this has never happened," Antioch coach Paul Petty said of his Sequoits losing by the 10-run rule to Lakes.
"It was a bittersweet comeback," said Gregory, who served as the Sequoits' designated hitter, batted cleanup and went 0-for-2 with a walk.
The Heartland Community College-bound Gregory, who was regarded as one of the top catchers in Lake County heading into the season, had been sidelined with a hip injury that he said he originally hurt during his freshman year of football. He tweaked the hip before the baseball season started.
Petty was hoping his veteran would be back in time for the state tournament, which is more than a month away.
"It healed a lot faster than we expected," Gregory said. "I've been doing physical therapy, running, throwing, and it's been feeling good. Now it's just a waiting game to see when I can catch. I'm hoping the second week in May."
"It did not look good (initially)," Petty said. "But he kept working at it."
Gregory was one of 3 strikeout victims of Hoffman in the bottom of the first, and the Lakes starting pitcher was in a groove the rest of the game. Hoffman had led off the top half of the inning by reaching second base on a dropped pop-up and eventually stole third. He and Nick Traska later executed a double-steal, with Hoffman scoring from third.
Three Antioch errors in Lakes' first had the Sequoits and starter David Meade in a 2-0 hole.
Hoffman struck out five of the first seven batters he faced and was working on a no-hitter with two outs in the fifth. But the right-hander walked ninth-place hitter Aaron Karpiel. Sequoits sophomore Jerry LaSaint then pulled a groundball single into right field.
Hoffman acknowledged he was aware of the no-hitter that was going on.
"I wasn't thinking about it too much," Hoffman said. "After (LaSaint) got the base hit, I was like, 'Oh well.' "
Antioch (9-4, 2-1) got a popped-up single down the left-field line from another sophomore, Nick Muskat, with one out in the sixth. But Hoffman recorded his eighth strikeout and then induced a groundball to finish his complete game.
He worked fast throughout the game.
"I love to work fast," Hoffman said. "That's just my style."
"He was great," Lakes coach Ray Gialo said of his pitcher. "I thought he controlled the whole tempo of the game. There was never a moment when he let (Antioch) build any momentum.
"They're well-coached," Gialo added. "It's a rivalry game. If you don't have a guy on the mound that can keep his composure and control the tempo of the game, it could be very back and forth."
Lakes' win came a day after the Eagles also posted double-digit runs in a win over Carmel.
The Eagles got two more runs off Meade (4-plus innings, 5 strikeouts, 5 walks, 4 runs, none earned) in the fourth to go up 4-0. A two-out error plated both runs.
Lakes then erupted for 8 runs in the sixth, aided by 6 walks and a hit batter. Kyle Neeve had a 2-run double to start the rally, and pinch-hitter Mike Bartlett contributed an RBI single. John O'Connor's fourth walk — with the bases loaded — had made it a 10-0 game.
Lakes stole 9 bases, including three apiece by Hoffman and Traska (2-for-3, 2 runs).
"We're off and on," Hoffman said. "But hopefully this can get us going — two big wins in a row."
"Our biggest thing has been maintaining an even keel emotionally," Gialo said. "We get really excited for the big games, and then we win and we have a hard time raising it back up to that notch again. We challenged them a little after (Monday) about not letting that happen."
Antioch, which committed 5 errors and issued 12 walks, visits Lakes today. Expect Gregory, for one, to be ready to go.
"I'm almost pain-free," Gregory said. "This is the best (the hip) has felt since freshman year."
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