Weather brings baseball’s season to end: Sports Shorts 5/16/06

By Kate Fratar

After a season characterized more than anything by its ups and downs, baseball’s year ended on a particularly anticlimactic note.

The Maroons’ finale came a bit sooner than planned, as the scheduled road doubleheader at Rose-Hulman (25–15) Saturday was rained out more than a full day in advance. Having been robbed of a chance to play out their last two games, the South Siders wrapped up the season with a break-even 17–17 mark.

Finishing up at .500 was no easy task after the squad dug an early hole with their 2–7 showing in the Arizona spring break trip. The Maroons couldn’t leave their troubles in the desert as they went 4–6 upon their return to Illinois.

With the spring slipping away, Chicago turned the corner with a 17-run explosion to whip Wheaton (13–24) April 11. It would be the beginning of a four-game winning streak, as the Maroons followed up its thrashing of the thunder with a 15–2, 11–0 humiliation against Robert Morris (23–18–1) and a 13–3 humbling of North Park (14–27). During that week of play, the Maroons scored averaged 14 runs per game after plating just 97 in their first 19 matchups. The offensive outburst was more than enough support for a solidifying pitching staff, which held opponents to a combined nine runs over that stretch.

While they broke up the streak with a 7–17 loss to Carthage (33–7) and fell 6–14 in the opener against Elmhurst (14–23–1) two days later, the Maroons still stood at 10–15 and promptly pieced together another winning streak. This time the South Siders strung together six in a row, including back-to-back doubleheader sweeps of the Milwaukee School of Engineering (9–13) and Benedictine (18–17–1). The latest surge lifted Chicago to 16–15 and put the team on track to a winning season.

A split twin bill with Concordia (20–17) May 7 followed by a 6–1 loss to North Central (13–26) May 10 dropped the Maroons back to fighting for a winning record against the Engineers for the second straight year. Chicago would not get that chance.

Instead, the squad will have to be content with setting high expectations for next year’s club. With six men on the roster hitting above .300, the South Siders have some serious lumber set to return next March. Breakout rookie catcher Scott Hofer led the team at the plate with 23 RBI, a .600 slugging percentage, and a .448 batting average that ranks fourth on the modern era single-season list. Fellow first-year right fielder Travis Blane also finished the season among Chicago’s top hitters with a .333 average, a .387 slugging percentage, and 12 RBI despite playing through part of the season with an injury.

Although the Maroons will no longer be able to rely on the arm of fourth-year ace right-hander Danny Yeksigian (7–3, 4.18), third-year Dan Cozzi (4–3, 4.53) has shown signs of being able to step into the number one starter role. While struggling at times with control—Cozzi threw 14 wild pitches while hitting eight batsmen—the right-hander had plenty of gas as he fanned 47 in his 57.2 innings.

With just four men from the roster graduating, Cozzi, Hofer, and Blane will lead an experienced group to the field next season. Hopefully, the squad will be able to build on the improvements started at the end of the 2006 campaign.