Weekend of milestones for baseball

By Chris Boots

Breathing life into a slow-going season, Chicago bested a nationally-ranked team for the first time this year and scored a season-leading run total during a quartet of games in St. Louis.

Chicago (13–14) split a pair of games with 13th-ranked Wash U (28–9) and toppled Case (11–19) twice by wide margins. After ushering in the weekend with a 5–4 victory over the Bears and a 13–1 downing of the Spartans, the squad pummeled Case 23–4 again on Sunday before dropping their final decision 3–13 in a rematch against their hosts.

Now hovering just below .500, the weekend’s wins were crucial for a squad looking to avoid the program’s first losing season since 1999.

Edging the Bears not only gave the Maroons their most impressive win of the spring but made head coach Brian Baldea the winningest coach in Chicago’s 114-year baseball history. The 16-year veteran’s 281st win propelled him past the legendary Amos Alonzo Stagg in the record books. Stagg has held the top spot since the program’s inception in 1893.

Trailing 1–0 at the top of the third inning, the Maroons began their upset bid as third-year left fielder Mike Serio scored off a single from second-year first baseman Kyle Schmitt. Four successive batters blasted hits, with first-year shortstop Robby Serpico crossing home for the eventual winning run off a single from second-year right fielder Travis Blane.

After this bout of slugging, Chicago managed only one more hit the rest of the way as the Bears bridged the gap with one run in the third and two in the seventh.

Unable to eke out a more comfortable margin at the plate, the Maroons turned to defense to secure the win. Up to the challenge, fourth-year pitcher Dan Cozzi kept the Bears at bay, striking out 10—including two in the bottom of the ninth—to deprive Wash U of a comeback.

“That was a big win,” said Serio, who is batting .312 on the season with a team-high 26 runs scored. “We had some excellent pitching and played good defense behind that. And even though all of our runs were in the same inning, we did it all with two outs, so we had some very timely hitting.”

“We all thought that it showed that we can compete with anyone. A win like that does a lot for the team, and hopefully when you do well and you’re thinking about what you did right, you can do the same thing next time.”

Chicago managed to do just that. Capping off their solid Saturday, the Maroons harnessed more third-inning magic to rout Case. During its most prolific offensive inning of the season, Chicago belted eight hits to net seven runs. Third-year pitcher Nate Ginsberg singled for the squad’s first hit, then stole second and scored off a single from Schmitt before coming around again in the rotation to drive in a run with another hit.

Ginsberg’s homer in the sixth, only the team’s fourth this season, plated two more runs, and fourth-year designated hitter John Thomas then walked with bases loaded in the seventh to send home Ginsberg for the Maroons’ final run.

In their highest scoring match of the season on Sunday, the Maroons capitalized on Case’s sloppy fieldwork to rack up a bevy of runs. Committing nine errors, Spartan fielders were responsible for seven unearned runs for the South Siders. First-year righty Chris Zagore didn’t help matters, handing Chicago 10 hits in his four innings.

In stark contrast, the Maroons kept things tight defensively, allowing no unearned runs and only two errors. Third-year pitcher Dominik Meyer went all seven innings in his fifth complete game, lowering his ERA to a team-leading 1.77.

Despite their quality play all weekend, the Maroons couldn’t pull off another upset in their final outing, holding the Bears to five runs before an explosive seventh inning buried Chicago’s hopes of extending its win streak to four.

The South Siders’ runs came off singles from first-year catcher Gino Miglio and third-year center fielder Mike Morgan, the team’s leader in batting average and slugging percentage.

After taking out Ginsberg in the fifth, Chicago’s bullpen struggled as three different pitchers threw in the seventh, allowing 11 Bears to step up to the plate and score eight runs before the mercy rule brought the game to an end with only one out recorded.

“We hung in for a while, but we lost steam and had some trouble pitching and a few mistakes in the field,” Serio said. “We were very upset with the loss. With the way we’d played all weekend, to lose like that was disappointing.”

Yet despite this loss, the squad still had their three-win weekend and Baldea’s milestone to revel in.

“We all congratulated him,” said Serio. “It’s a really special accomplishment to be mentioned among Chicago coaches like Amos Alonzo Stagg. We hope we can add to the record for him in the rest of the season.”

This week will be a busy one for the Maroons as they try to close out the season with a winning record. The squad takes on North Park (14–22) at home Tuesday before an away bout with Benedictine (14–18) on Thursday and home double headers with DePauw (23–16) and Aurora (14–18) over the weekend.