SPORTS

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April 4, 2003

Baseball flying high after solid 9-3 start

The team has been practicing officially since January 13 under the direction of their two captains, fourth-year pitcher George Schade and fourth-year catcher J.P. Bauman. Both captains led by example in Florida, posting solid individual performances. Schade was dominant in his two starts on the mound, completing and winning both games. However, Schade struggled in his first start back in Chicago on Wednesday and gave up five earned runs and 12 hits through 5 2/3 innings. The loss dropped his record to 2-1 and bumped his ERA up to 3.20. An ankle sprain limited Bauman's action to six games, but he made the most of his playing time, hitting safely in 8 of 18 at-bats and delivering six RBIs.

During the Florida trip the Maroons were 5-0 in games decided by two runs or fewer. Time and time again, the team excelled late in the game in order to secure victory. The key component of this success came from the Chicago pitching staff. "Our pitching was awesome," said third-year designated hitter Tracey Neubrand. "We rarely had to go to the bullpen before the seventh inning." This high quality starting pitching allowed the Maroons to rest their relievers throughout most of the eight days of play. In total, the starters contributed 57 2/3 innings pitched while the bullpen was only required to work 13 1/3 innings.

In addition to Schade, third-year starting pitcher Adam Alson contributed two solid outings. He finished the trip with a 1-1 record, but the quality of his efforts can best be seen in his 4.35 ERA and opponent batting average of .273. Second-year Steve Ruh was also outstanding in his first career start. He held Gustavus Adolphus College to three earned runs over 6 2/3 innings and was the pitcher of record in this crucial 9-8 win to end the trip. Although third-year Andrew Hacker was shaky in his two starts in Florida, he bounced back to throw a complete game shutout in the Maroons' home opener on Tuesday. Hacker featured pinpoint control over a sharp breaking ball, striking out six and walking only one.

In spite of these impressive performances, the Maroon starting pitchers were not able to finish out their games in every case. Yet each time the starters faltered, the bullpen provided a chance for the win. Excelling in relief were first-year Dan Yeksigian and third-year closer Nick Kocinski. Yeksigian pitched 6 2/3 innings of outstanding relief, posting an ERA of 1.35 and a 1-0 record while striking out seven. Kocinski was roughed up at times but held on in the most critical situations in route to a 1-0 record and two saves.

As good as the Maroons' pitching was, it certainly did not overshadow the team's strong performance at the plate. From the top of the lineup to the bottom, Baldea's team made solid contact in the first 12 games of the season, accumulating a team batting average of .333 and a .417 team on-base percentage. Particularly impressive were the individual efforts of third-year shortstop Brent Consiglio and third-year outfielder Jim Raptis. Consiglio hit for a .500 average and drove in 12 runs, landing a slugging percentage of .794 through Wednesday. Raptis was phenomenal, batting .390 with 11 RBIs and two homeruns. "Jim Raptis finished the trip on a hot streak," said Neubrand. "He came up with big hits in crucial situations that often ended up being the difference in the game".

Also solid at the plate were Nick Kocinski, batting .369 while playing third-base, first-year outfielder Ryan Denton with a .370 average, designated hitter Tracey Neubrand who batted .353, and first-year first baseman Chris Kocinski who drove in seven runs.

Each time a critical situation came up, Chicago hitters were able to get the job done. Twice during the Florida trip the Maroons won games in the bottom of the last inning with their final at-bat. "Our guys showed the ability to find a way to succeed," said Baldea. "They were able to pick each other up." The Maroons have proven that they can win close games, and this gives them a great deal of momentum as they continue their season.

Even though the season has just begun and 23 games still remain, the U of C's 9-3 record has brightened the prospects for a trip to the post season. This is particularly impressive, as the Maroons have never reached the NCAA Division III post-season. There is no UAA athletic conference in baseball and, therefore, the U of C team contends as a league-less independent. As a result, the Maroons must vie for one of only five national playoff spots that are reserved for independent teams. Despite these daunting odds, the team has shown through the first third of their season that they are a club that has a shot at making the playoffs.

The Maroons seek to continue their success on Monday when they play a doubleheader at the Milwaukee School of Engineering. The Maroons then return home on Tuesday to play North Central College, first pitch at 3 p.m.