No. 2 St. Laurence, Smith down No. 6 Providence

By Sean Duncan

NEW LENOX – In the first of many heavyweight matchups in the Chicago Catholic Blue Conference, No. 2 St. Laurence continued to prove that the Vikings are legitimate state-title contenders.

On Saturday, St. Laurence went on the road to No. 6 Providence Catholic and came away with an impressive 5-3 victory.

And no one played a more pivotal role in St. Laurence’s victory than junior Kevin Smith. The 6-foot-3, 195-pound Smith did it all for St. Laurence (21-1-1, 7-0) – and he did so in the most critical of situations. Smith, who is verbally committed to Creighton as a two-way player, went 3-for-4 with a pair of doubles and three RBI. His two-run, bases-loaded double in the top of the seventh to right field gave St. Laurence a 5-1 advantage – a cushion the Vikings would need to hold off a late Providence (14-5, 6-1) rally.

On the mound, Smith pitched 6 1/3 innings, yielding five hits and two earned runs. The right-hander struck out four, walked two (one intentional) and hit on batter to improve to 5-0. Smith’s heavy fastball sat in the 83-84 range for most of the game, and he touched 88 once. He seemingly spotted his fastball where he wanted and mixed in a change and curve to keep Providence honest enough.

“I’ve been working on hitting the ball more to the right side,” said Smith of his big two-run double in the seventh. “Since I was pitching, I was gassed, I’m not going to lie. I just wanted to come through for the team.

“This is the most fun I’ve had in my entire life. We’re playing great baseball right now. … This was absolutely huge. All these guys, I don’t think we slept at all last night. We were ready to go.”

Smith held Providence’s offense in check all game. And when the Celtics mounted some momentum, he snuffed it out. For example, in the third inning, St. Laurence opted to intentionally walk Arizona-bound Ryan Koziol, who had doubled in his first at-bat, to load the bases with two outs. On a 3-2 pitch, with the runners in motion, Smith struck the batter out. Or in the sixth, when Kenny King led off the inning with a single, Smith quickly rolled a double play.

Providence certainly made it interesting in the seventh, when Kevin Tully reached on an error to lead off the inning. An out later, Smith hit the next batter and followed with his only unintentional walk of the game to load the bases. Lotus brought in reliever Joe Siebenaler, who walked two runs in and recorded one out to make it 5-3.

Lotus went back to the pen, bringing in hard-throwing junior right-hander Zach Lewis to face Koziol with the bases loaded. The two battled to a 3-2 count before Lewis got him swinging on an 86-mph fastball. Lewis, who is a physical 6-foot-2, climbed as high as 88 in the one at-bat he faced.

“That got way too interesting,” said Lotus. “That’s why this is such a great league. There are tough, hard-nosed kids anywhere you go. … This was a huge win for us on the road.”

Scouting Notes:

  • Although it was pretty nippy outside, there’s nothing like some good old-fashioned velocity to keep this guy warm in the stands. The game featured four different pitchers who touched 88 mph: Providence starting pitcher David Hearne (Notre Dame recruit), Providence junior RHP Yianni Pavlopoulos, St. Laurence junior RHP Zach Lewis and Smith.
  • Mike Kornacker, who’s the No. 4-ranked prospect in the Class of 2014, is an impressive talent. He’s an athletically built 6-foot-3 two-way standout who hits third for the Vikings. Against Providence, Kornacker went 2-for-3 with a walk and an RBI. He’s been the starting second baseman for St. Laurence since a freshman – and every time I see him he barrels everything up.
  • And speaking of talented sophomores, Brad Wood looks to be one of the premier outfield prospects in the Class of 2014. The younger brother of former PBR All-Stater Kyle Wood (now at Purdue), Brad is not a physical presence, but he is an impressive all-around talent. He gets excellent reads off the bat and showed a plus arm during pregame. Wood hits second for the Vikings.
  • Yianni Pavlopoulos, a 6-foot-1, 195-pound RHP, should be one of the most coveted arms in the Class of 2013. Never mind his 86-88 mph velocity, his 78-80 mph cutter/slider is a big-time pitch. It has some late two-plane bite and he throws it for strikes.
  • Any school looking for an athletic hitter, take a look at Providence OF Kenny King. At 6-foot-3, 195 pounds, King has impressive all-around tools. A sub-7 runner, the right-handed hitter was 4.32 down the line and has been one of the Celtics’ most consistent offensive players. He also possesses arm strength in the outfield.
  • I said it in my blog and I’ll say it again: the fact that St. Laurence 1B Brandon Mallder is unsigned at this point is beyond me. The left-handed hitter opened the seventh inning by easily turning on an 88 mph fastball. Mallder can really hit.

IL Top Prospect Showcase slide 6-14-12