When Oak Forest baseball coach Thad Gatton talks about the play of sophomore do-it-all Brian Richard, he talks first about his experience.
“As young as he is, he’s very experienced,” Gatton said. “He started from Day 1 as a freshman in right field. He contributes on the mound, at first base, in left field and, by far, in my opinion, he’s our best hitter.”
Richard backed up Gatton’s bold talk with his bat in the Bengals’ 9-0 victory over Shepard on Wednesday afternoon. He banged out four hits in four at-bats, including three doubles, and drove in three runs to wriggle his way into the spotlight on Senior Day.
He also scooped up a low pickoff throw at first base and gunned out Shepard’s Christian Araiza on a 1-3-2 putout to help preserve the shutout for Oak Forest senior pitching ace Kyle Funkhouser in the top of the sixth inning.
Gatton already has grown accustomed to watching Richard deliver the goods.
“And he’s 15 or 16 years old,” Gatton said. “He’s mature baseball-wise beyond his years. And his experience last year has really helped him this year. He probably is a prototypical one-hitter.
“He can bunt, he can run and he can hit. But we need him probably a little more in that three-hole. He can hit for power.”
Forget about that “10” to the right of his name on the Bengals’ roster.
“A lot of people look at senior, junior, sophomore, freshman—I don’t,” Gatton said. “We try to get our best nine out on the field. He’s by far one of our best nine. There’s no question about it. His age—it doesn’t matter.
“And, the thing is, a lot of kids at our school are two- and three-sport athletes and don’t play baseball as much as he does. He plays top-level travel-team baseball. He’s seeing better pitching in his travel-team year in the summer and the fall than he does during the high school season. So, he’s definitely prepared for any pitching that he faces.”
He’s also prepared to doff his cap to his older teammates on occasion and to do whatever he can to learn from Funkhouser, John Zubek and the rest of the Bengals’ senior leaders.
“Yeah, it was a special day for all of our seniors, and I’m just glad to help them out, help get the win for them so they’ll have some nice memories when they go away to college,” Richard said. “ ‘Funk’ threw a great game. He always does.”
Funkhouser scattered four hits over six innings of shutout ball and raised his record to 8-1. He struck out eight. Junior Kyle Czeszewski tossed one scoreless inning in relief behind him as the Bengals pushed their record to 18-4.
Zubek had three hits in four at-bats and picked off a runner at first base. George Jester added three hits and three RBIs, and Kyle Sleeman went 2-for-3, including a solo homer. All took their turns basking in the glow of the P.A. announcer’s warm words during the course of the game.
Richard just went about his business in the background. He has connected with his older baseball brothers.
“I’m good friends with them,” he said. “We play basketball on the weekends. They don’t look down on me just because I’m a sophomore. I’m close with Kyle (Funkhouser), Artie (Johnson), Cody (Murray) and Kyle Sleeman—all of them.”
Richard envisions himself enjoying a similar sendoff one day.
“I hope to have a great Senior Day just like this one—this was great for them,” he said. “I hope mine will be just as good.”