By Dominic Scianna
Payton head baseball coach Garry Gustafson is used to his team’s underdog role in this season’s Chicago Public League (CPL) varsity baseball city championship playoffs. But that chip on their shoulder has fueled the Grizzlies as their impressive run continued this past Saturday with an 11-5 upset victory over Simeon at Kerry Wood Field in Chicago.
After all, his Payton (10-16) entered its contest against Simeon as the #7 seed from the Jackie Robinson North Division and had won just nine games – with three of those wins coming versus Hancock, Brooks, and Taft in CPL city championship tournament play.
“It (the playoff run) just shows the character of these kids. We’ve come from the #7 seed and now we are playing for the city championship,” said Gustafson, a member of the Illinois High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame with more than 500 wins in his 36-year career with stints at Niles West High School and Payton. “I’m so proud of this team. When we played Brooks we started three freshmen and four sophomores so we’re a very young team. It’s just been a great week of baseball for us.”
The Grizzlies will play CPL rival Kenwood (25-4) at Guaranteed Rate Field, home to the Chicago White Sox, on Monday, May 22. The Broncos defeated Lane Tech 4-3 in the other CPL city semifinal matchup. The first pitch is set for 1 p.m. and admission to all fans is free of charge.
Junior catcher Anthony Dorn led the charge at the plate for Payton with three triples and three RBI in the win as the Grizzlies put up five runs in the top of the fifth inning to stretch their lead over the Wolverines to 9-1.
Senior Olin Hemingway got the victory on the mound pitching five-plus innings while striking out five batters.
Simeon battled back to score four times in the bottom of the sixth inning behind timely hitting from Chris Boykin (two RBI) and Xavier Minor (2-for-3, RBI) as Hemingway gave way to sophomore pitcher/third baseman Nathan Volkens to close out the game in the final inning-and-a-half to thwart Simeon’s comeback bid. Volkens was also 3-for-4 at the plate with an RBI and Hemingway had two RBI as well.
“I can’t remember the last time I had three triples in a game, maybe one time in travel baseball,” Dorn said, shrugging his shoulders. “I think the big turnaround for our team has been putting our hits together, something we weren’t doing at the beginning of the season and now everyone’s hitting well. That’s been the biggest difference.”
Plus, Hemingway is one of the pitchers who Gustafson has credited with keeping his team in games even when the team was losing close contests before finding its way.
So the question is, will Gustafson call on Hemingway to take the mound in the biggest game of Payton’s season in the CPL City Championship battle versus Kenwood at Guaranteed Rate Field? The advantage is Hemingway and Dorn, his battery mate, will have more than a week to prepare since the game will be played at Guaranteed Rate Field on May 22.
“I sure hope I pitch (at Guaranteed Rate Field) but we trust coach whatever decision he makes,” said Hemingway. “He’s won 500 games and is a Hall of Famer so he’s been in these types of situations before. I believe we deserve to be there and we’re so excited. It’s going to be electric.”
Simeon (17-13) now sets its sights on the Illinois High School Association (IHSA) baseball postseason playoffs after the tough loss as head coach Anthony Butler tries to get his team ready for the top competition in the state.
“I’m not surprised the way Payton played, and we didn’t really help ourselves with the bad inning we had at the end of the game. It’s a lesson for us to learn from and now we move on (to the state tournament),” Butler noted.