Last day had it all for baseball, seniors

By Ben Jervis

After an up-and-down spring of trials and tribulations, baseball finished just short of a winning season. Practically having the cat in the bag a week before the campaign’s end, the Maroons couldn’t stay the course to close things out above .500. While they fell short of their ultimate goal, they needed to ensure that they would finish in style. Sending off the fourth-years on a high note was just the way to do so.

Looking to avoid what could be its first losing season in eight years, Chicago (17–17) cruised past North Central (16–24) 11–4 Tuesday at J. Kyle. In a picturesque climax to his dazzling career, fourth-year right-hander Dan Cozzi (6–2, 3.60) tossed eight and a third innings, allowing just two earned runs on five hits. Cozzi’s outstanding effort marked his sixth win of the season and the 14th of his career, tying him for seventh place with Ed Ruder (A.B. ’88) on the Maroons’ all-time list. Although Cozzi and his teammates shined that day, an air of dissatisfaction permeated the squad, which, after going 5–1 last week, lost three straight over the weekend to dash their hopes of closing the books with a winning record.

“It definitely was frustrating to finish as a .500 baseball team because we felt we were better than that,” third-year left fielder Mike Morgan said. “However, the team came together and pulled out a convincing win in our last game, and that should point us in the right direction heading into next season.”

Not only did Cozzi put a fitting end to his career, but it was “Seniors Day” all around for the Maroons, with fourth-years leading the hit parade. Second baseman Tony Zitek went two-for-five, while his classmates, designated hitter John Thomas and third baseman Allen Cooper, each posted three-for-five days with two runs scored apiece.

“We lost a great senior class, but I think that an additional year of experience will benefit all of our returnees,” Morgan said.

Aside from the fourth-years’ towering finale, the day also served as a sign of the promises of younger talent on the team, as first-year catcher Gino Miglio went two-for-three, collecting three RBIs. Miglio’s performance capped a rookie season in which he hit .295 with 16 RBIs and made heads turn and base runners dive with his strong arm at the backstop. Third-year right fielder Mike Serio put up a two-for-four day with three RBIs to stretch his hitting streak to 12 games, the longest for any Maroon in 2007.

Although the Cardinals were the first to score, the day clearly belonged to Chicago following the second inning. After Cozzi surrendered a run in the first, North Central’s starter, third-year southpaw Erik Hudson (1–1, 5.52) gave it right back in the next inning after a passed ball scored Thomas. Miglio and Serio then ripped two bases-loaded singles to bring home two more for the Maroons.

After touching Hudson for three runs in that inning and a 3–1 lead, Chicago put across another three in the third. A bases-loaded walk scored one, before Serio came through once again with a two-RBI single. First-year righty Nick Pingel came on to try and stop the bleeding but surrendered two more runs across three and a third innings. In the seventh and eighth frames, the Maroons scored three more, one on another bases-loaded walk and the final two on a single and a groundout.

While Cozzi was in firm control throughout the game, Chicago’s crisp defensive work deserves much credit for the win. After making a whopping 10 errors across their three losses over the weekend, the Maroons brought out their A-game against the Cardinals, turning two pivotal double plays. In the top of the first, with runners on the corners, North Central third-year left fielder Matt Mahay hit into a 4-6-3 play to end the inning. In the seventh, Cozzi got out of a bases-loaded jam with one out after the infield turned two, going 5-4-3.

Chicago’s season was marked by consistently dominant pitching and glove work, but lacked consistency at the plate. In too many games, particularly during their spring break trip, the Maroons showed up lifeless in the box. Having lost perhaps their best hitter, second-year catcher Scott Hofer, after the third game of the year, the rest of Chicago’s offense likely needed time to adjust to the increased burden of producing in key situations for the team.

“We lost two key players early this season, [Hofer] and [first-year] pitcher Joe Pankow, so when they return next season, it will almost feel as though we brought in two great recruits who will be able to contribute immediately,” Morgan said. “Our pitching should again be solid, and our hitters should feel confident because of the way we hit to finish the season. I’m optimistic that we’ll use the lessons learned by this year’s successes and shortcomings to take a huge step forward next year.”