Sandburg baseball coach Jim Morsovillo chalked up the decision as a no-brainer.
With two games remaining in the conference race and the Eagles locked in a three-way tie for first in the Southwest Suburban Blue with Lockport and Joliet West, he put the ball—and his trust—in the hands of his ace.
Sandburg senior left-hander Matt Farrington rewarded Morsovillo for his faith with another stellar effort. Farrington fired a three-hit shutout in the Eagles’ 10-0 six-inning victory over Homewood-Flossmoor on Tuesday afternoon in Orland Park.
The victory pushed his record to 6-2 and reduced the Eagles’ magic number to 1. With a win over H-F in Thursday’s rematch between the two old rivals, Sandburg will clinch at least a tie for the conference championship.
H-F coach Todd Sippel elected to save his ace for another day. Dan Lietz played center field and batted in the No. 2 slot for the Vikings. He went 1-for-3, including a double, but did not throw a single pitch. The thinking is he will have his chance come playoff time.
“Yeah, they didn’t pitch their ace,” Morsovillo said. “Obviously, we’re in a situation where we’re tied for the conference lead. If we don’t win this game and we save Farrington for two days from now, it doesn’t matter. We win today, and now we give ourselves a chance on Thursday, and we’ll see what happens.”
Farrington gets much of the credit for helping the Eagles (21-6-1, 9-4) put up another ‘W’ although Sandburg’s sticks were thumping to the tune of 11 hits, too.
He used a fastball, curve and changeup to mow down Homewood-Flossmoor. The Vikings didn’t have an extra base hit until the top of the sixth. They threatened only once, putting runners on first-and-third with one out in the top of the second.
Farrington wriggled out of trouble by coaxing Ryan Redmond to hit into a 1-2 putout and then fanned David Stern on three pitches.
“We preach that you’re going to compete in the strike zone,” Morsovillo said. “You don’t want to walk guys. When he stays down in the zone, he’s tough to hit. When he elevated a few balls today, they put a charge into a couple of them.
“So, just like everybody, the philosophy is, ‘Get ahead. Keep the ball down. Get groundballs.’ His ability to get in a good flow of the game because he works quickly is something that benefits us defensively, too.”
Sandburg junior shortstop Austin Cangelosi ranged into the hole to making a nifty grab of a soft liner hit by the Vikings’ Ben Kirchler. Farrington took care of most of the rest of H-F's hitters in routine fashion, notching five strikeouts and three assists himself.
“Yeah, it made me feel great,” Farrington said of earning the big-game start. “I’m happy that my coaches picked me over the other guys. I’ve been working hard in the off-season—just a lot of dedication and hard work has gone into this.”
This, for Farrington, is a chance to leave an indelible imprint in the Sandburg baseball sandbox and, perhaps, continue his playing career in the collegiate ranks. He is fielding scholarship inquiries from a number of schools, including Illinois State.
Otherwise, he is throwing heat.
“I was using my fastball a lot, keeping the hitters off-balance with my changeup and mixing in a curveball once in a while,” Farrington said.
Alec Nelson, Sandburg’s junior first baseman, has grown accustomed to watching Farrington work his magic on the mound. When the Eagles were up 2-0, he felt like they were in charge despite the fact Sandburg squandered a couple of early scoring opportunities.
“Oh, yeah, we definitely have a lot of confidence when Matt (Farrington) is on the mound,” Nelson said. “We know every single day when he’s on the mound he gives us a chance to win. He throws a lot of strikes. He throws hard. And he knows how to play the game and pitch really well.”