Lumber slumber: Strikeouts pile up as ninth-inning rally falls one run short

By Joe Katz

With four runs in the bottom of the ninth and the pitcher struggling to find the plate, it looked like the Maroons had a golden opportunity to snap a six-game losing streak. It was not to be.

After Robert Morris first-year Bob Gleich failed to retire six of the eight batters he faced, third-year Matt Joiner switched from third base to the mound and walked fourth-year Steve Ruh, conceding a run and putting the tying run on third with two outs. Joiner then came back to strike out Maroons fourth-year first baseman Justin Garrett in a seven-pitch at-bat, sealing a 7-6 win for the Eagles (10-4). Third-year spot starter Brian Olson took the loss for the Maroons (4-10), dropping his record to 0-2 and his ERA to 9.75 on the season.

Olson threw four innings as part of a three-man effort on the mound for the home team, along with first-year righty Dominik Meyer and second-year righty Dan Cozzi. The results were unsatisfactory, as the staff combined for 11 walks on the afternoon. Five of those free passes made it all the way home, including one of two ninth-inning runs to provide the margin of victory for the Eagles.

“These guys haven’t worked much since we came back from Florida, and they’ve been throwing well in practice. It was their time,” head coach Brian Baldea said. “The walks were very disappointing. I think the opponent demonstrated little ability to hit, we just gave them too many free bases.”

Hitting woes weren’t limited to Robert Morris. While the ninth-inning rally gave the Maroons their highest run total since their last victory, a 13-2 win over Western Connecticut State March 24, Chicago hitters struck out 13 times over the course of the game and left 16 men on base.

“I don’t think our ability to score and hit is improving very much. We’re still just not hitting. The burst in the ninth was not that reassuring,” Baldea said. “It’s a team-wide thing, and there is absolutely not one player who’s key to turning it around.”

“I think one problem we may be facing is that we have a lot of players who think they should be the one to get us out of this. It’s absolutely not one guy. One guy can’t get us going. When it happens, it will be a team effort.”

“There is no one player that can turn this around,” agreed Garrett, who is batting .278 with nine RBI this year. “The key to our offense lies in the success of the proven hitters throughout the lineup that are struggling right now. This is a team game and we are failing as a team right now. When we start to hit again, it will be due to a concerted team effort.”

Among the lone bright spots at the plate were fourth-year third baseman T.J. Rajcevich, who went two for three with three walks and one RBI, and third-year second baseman Matt Assad, who went one for four with a walk, two RBI, and a run scored in his first career start.

“Matt has been swinging the bat well in practice, and he produced for us,” Baldea said. “He has earned the opportunity to play more in the coming weeks.”

“Matt was the key to us scoring runs against Robert Morris,” Garrett agreed. “He stepped into the lineup with against a good team.”

Assad also made a hard, diving run at a foul ball behind first base in the fourth and turned a double play in the fifth. He was not alone in his performance, as the team continues to perform to expectations in the field after early struggles. The team turned in a solid defensive effort, making one error on the day. It was only their second since returning from their spring break trip to Florida, where they averaged 3.1 miscues over their first 10 games.

“The evidence recently gives us reason to believe that we’re going to be making the plays behind the pitcher. It’s been like that since we came back to Chicago,” Baldea said. “It’s an encouraging sign.”

In upcoming action, third-year righty Dan Yeskigian (1-2, 4.95) will start against Illinois Tech (10-12) at home this afternoon, and fourth-year righties Dan Harrington (0-2, 5.87) and Matt Altomare (1-2, 8.10) will split starting duties in a doubleheader at Concordia (7-11) tomorrow.

“These are both good teams. We’re expecting each guy to take us deep into each game and give us a chance to win,” Baldea said.

With the defensive play improving, the Maroons are looking to finally provide a balanced effort from the game’s start. “To be successful at this level, a team needs to pitch, hit, and play sound defense throughout the course of a nine inning game. We may be getting closer to this goal, but we will win when we bring these three things to the field on a daily basis,” Garrett said.