Baseball rides Yeksigian gem, close shave to sweep

By Joe Katz

One month ago none of this seemed possible. Riding a late-season surge, baseball’s dreams of a winning season look like they might just become reality.

After nearly coughing up the second game in the seventh, the Maroons (14–15) pulled off a sweep of the Milwaukee School of Engineering (13–21) 5–0, 5–4 in a Wednesday afternoon doubleheader at J. Kyle. Fourth-year ace Dan Yeksigian (7–2, 4.05) faced just one batter over the minimum to record a two-hit shutout on his birthday in the first game. It was a slightly different story in the capper, as problems in relief gave first-year righty reliever Alex Gallan (0–2, 12.86) the chance to be the hero. The rookie got his first career save to preserve the win for second-year lefty starter/center fielder Nate Ginsberg (3–3, 4.47).

With just seven games to go on the schedule, the team is well positioned to finish with a record of .500 or better for the seventh consecutive spring. The Maroons were seven games below that mark as recently as April 9.

“We’re very confident. We think we can win 20 games,” second-year outfielder Mike Serio said. “I think we’ve struggled throwing strikes on occasion, but we’re all confident that that will change, and our defense has been pretty good. I think that in the past few games we could have been a little more patient at the plate, but I think that everyone realizes that. We’re headed in the right direction.”

If Yeksigian can turn in a few more efforts like this one, running the table wouldn’t be out of the question. The righty was masterful in his fifth complete game of the season, striking out six and walking none for his third career whitewash and first of the year. He allowed a single in the first to eliminate any chance of a repeat of last year’s no-hit performance but conceded only a single and an error in the fifth after that. No Raider base runner advanced past second during the contest.

The near-perfect performance was particularly impressive given how Yeksigian’s counterpart on the MSOE staff imploded. With two outs in the first, third-year starter Kyle Nelson (1–3) issued a walk to first-year catcher Scott Hofer, a single to Ginsberg, and then granted three consecutive free passes to force in two runs. He couldn’t finish the job in the third, either, as first-year right fielder Travis Blane and fourth-year designated hitter Ryan Denton both singled with two down before being driven in by single from fourth-year third baseman Matt Assad. The Maroons’ fifth run came on a Hofer sacrifice fly in the fourth.

Nelson went the distance himself as he suffered the defeat, giving up four earned runs on eight hits and four walks against two strikeouts in six innings.

“It was an unbelievable performance from Danny. It’s about as good as you can ask,” Serio said. “He had good command of his fastball, and was putting the ball where he wanted to. He threw a heck of a game.”

While the opener was all about Yeksigian’s dominance, the twilight game was a classic edge-of-the-seat thriller. Ginsberg allowed an unearned run in the first on a walk, a wild pitch, his own error, and a grounder, but his teammates struck back for three unearned runs in the bottom of the frame to take the lead. The second tally of that inning was the most dramatic, as third-year second baseman Tony Zitek tagged up on a sac fly and scored on a daring slide into home before returning to the dugout as a conquering hero.

The margin gave Ginsberg some room for error, which he was able to protect by finagling out of bases-loaded jams in the second and fourth. First-year righty Payton Leonhardt (0–1, 8.71) came on with one down and none on in the sixth, and promptly issued a walk to third-year third baseman Anthony Gorzelnik. The Raider eventually came home on a Leonhardt balk, but, with third-year third baseman John Thomas and Zitek contributing fifth- and sixth-inning RBI, Chicago entered the top of the seventh looking for the win with a 5–2 lead.

With third-year lefty Robert Wilson on the mound, that margin thinned out in a hurry. Wilson got a ground out to get things started but then hit second-year first baseman Brian Robinson and sent him to second on a wild pitch. A single and two walks later, Robinson was home and the go-ahead run was aboard. Baldea sent Gallan to the mound to put out the fire, and the first-year quickly recorded a punchout against Gorzelnik but followed it up with a free pass of his own to put the tying run 90 feet from the dish. Gallan managed to lock up the win with a grounder to third, leaving three men aboard.

Second-year starter Kyle Schmocker (2–4) took the loss for the Raiders, giving up three runs, one earned on seven hits and a walk over four innings. Ginsberg pitched 5.1 innings, surrendering just one unearned run on six hits and four walks while putting two punchouts on the board.

“That inning was a thrill. The thing that made it more nerve-wracking was that we weren’t throwing strikes, you didn’t know where the next pitch was going. It got kind of dicey, but a win is a win,” Serio said. “It makes a big difference going into a four-game weekend. It’s a huge win, because it’s a case where you know that you can win in a tight game. That should help us in the future.”

Gallan and company will hope to keep the broomsticks out as they wrap up their home schedule this weekend. Benedictine (18–17–1) comes to town for a pair Saturday, and the Maroons take on Concordia (19–18) in their final games of 2006 at J. Kyle Sunday.