Baseball walking off in style with sweep

By Ben Jervis

With the season’s work almost at an end, it was time for baseball to step up as a whole and come through with all-around effort. After a year of consistent, solid pitching, but with some up-and-downs at the plate, everything seemed to fall into place this week as Chicago finally fired on all cylinders.

Reaching and surpassing the .500 mark for the first time since their spring break trip, the Maroons (15–14) took care of North Park (14–23) 4–3 at J. Kyle Tuesday and topped Benedictine 6–3 (14–21) in Lisle Wednesday. Concluding its 2007 road campaign with the victory over the Eagles, Chicago has reached the high point of its season in every facet of play, winning five of its last six.

“I think we’ve remained pretty strong, generally speaking, pitching-wise, and I think our guys are swinging the bats much better lately,” head coach Brian Baldea said.

Facing the Vikings, the Maroons put together a tense comeback with some late-inning heroics. With the squad trailing by a run in the ninth, first-year catcher Gino Miglio belted a leadoff single to right center. Needing speed on the base paths, first-year Ben Nordstrom came in for Miglio to pinch run and advanced to second on a groundout by third-year right fielder Mike Serio. After a wild pitch from North Park righty Steve Kleckler sent Nordstrom to third, fourth-year Tony Zitek knocked a sac-fly to center to tie things up at three runs apiece.

Looking for a chance to win it in the bottom of the 10th, second-year first baseman Kyle Schmitt started things off with a double to right field. After Kleckler loaded the bases, third-year left fielder Mike Morgan blasted a walk-off single through the ride side, scoring Schmitt and winning it 4–3 for Chicago. Providing pop off the bench, Morgan has consistently delivered clutch hitting and leads the Maroons with runners in scoring position, posting a .500 average.

“With only one out and the bases loaded, I knew that their pitcher was going to try to come right at me with strikes,” Morgan said. “I got the first pitch fastball that I was looking for and managed to hit it past first and get the run in.”

“Recently, we’ve put things together better than we had early on,” Serio said. “We won a couple of key close games recently, something that was also missing earlier in the year. We just couldn’t come back or close out those games, so we’ve progressed in that regard.”

Chicago’s dramatic victory Tuesday could not have come without the help of exceptional relief pitching on the part of second-year righty Payton Leonhardt (1–2, 9.82), who tossed 4 1/3 innings of three-hit shutout ball. He filled in for first-year southpaw Alex Garbier (0–1, 5.23), who allowed three earned runs in 5 2/3 frames.

The next day, in their final road game, the Maroons rode a sparkling eight-inning pitching performance by fourth-year righty Dan Cozzi (5–2, 3.81) for a 6–3 clipping of the Eagles. Cozzi allowed just one earned run on four hits to notch his 13th career victory. The win tied him with Dan Harrington (A.B. ’05) and Mike DeFant (A.B. ’98) for eighth place among Chicago’s all-time leaders in victories. At the plate, the Maroons’ six runs came on continued solid hitting by Morgan, who went three-for-four and scored a run. Fourth-year third baseman Allen Cooper tallied a two-for-five day with two RBIs, including a single in the ninth with the bases loaded.

“I think we all played well,” Serio said. “When you’re able to get something going as a team, it gives you confidence. I think it was a good week for everybody.”

With five contests remaining on its schedule, all at J. Kyle, Chicago will look to stay above the .500 mark by riding its recent successes into a weekend of doubleheaders against DePauw (24–16) and Aurora (14–20), before finishing the season against North Central (15–20) Tuesday afternoon. Closing the books with a winning season will be essential for the Maroons, who have finished at the .500 mark or higher in 12 of their past 13 campaigns.

“This last week of the season presents us with a great opportunity to both end on a positive note and reach the 20-win plateau,” Morgan said. “We’re looking forward to winning the final five games of this season and giving the seniors the sendoff that they deserve.”