SPORTS

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March 12, 2004

Baseball splits four in opening weekend

The baseball team hit the ground running over the weekend, scoring 53 runs in their first four games.

Unfortunately, a late-inning collapse Saturday left the team with a record of .500 over the weekend. This is their only action until 10 games in Florida over spring break.

A year after going 25-6 overall and 24-4 against Division III opponents, expectations for the baseball team have soared. Only two starters graduated—catcher J.P. Bauman and outfielder Sam Kass—from a team that broke a number of school offensive records, scoring an average 9.5 runs per game.

Many close to the team believe that this year will feature the most complete Maroon team in recent memory and that it will make a serious run for an NCAA playoff birth.

Friday's doubleheader against Principia (0-2) did little to sway that opinion. The hitters exploded for 37 runs in the two games. Fourth-year left fielder Jim Raptis led the way, hitting .444 with 6 runs and seven RBIs. Third-year outfielder Frank Brown, who missed all of last year due to a knee injury, had a phenomenal return in the second game, going 4-for-5 with three runs scored and five driven in.

If the lineup hadn't had such outstanding games, the pitchers would have been the big story.

Third-year Dan Harrington and fourth-year Andrew Hacker were near perfect. Both threw complete games, giving up only eight hits and two earned runs in the doubleheader.

Pitching and defense, which were both team weaknesses at times last year, remain on the list of problems this season.

"We're going to put 10 runs on the board every game. We're not worried about our hitters because we can smash the ball," said fourth-year second-baseman Ben McCown. "Our problem is that we have taken the defensive side for granted. We've all been working really hard to steady that out."

Those problems cropped up against Greenville in Saturday's doubleheader. In the first game, second-year Dan Yeksigian pitched an outstanding six innings in his first collegiate start. After going 2-0 with a 1.53 ERA in nine appearances last year, Yeksigian will strengthen the rotation with a fastball with heavy movement and a strong curveball.

The bullpen took over with an 11-5 lead in the bottom of the seventh but was ineffective. First-years Brian Olson and Robert Wilson struggled in their debuts, allowing five base runners who all scored before either could get an out.

Fourth-year closer Nick Kocinski moved from third base to pitcher with a slim three-run lead, two men on, and no outs. Kocinski was effective enough to get two outs, but the final out of the game still eluded the bullpen. With two men on and a one-run lead, he gave up a three-run walk off homerun to third-year outfielder Tony Peper. The homer capped an 11-run rally for Greenville (3-3).

"The main problem was just throwing strikes. We didn't get ahead of hitters. When we threw the ball in the strike zone we kept the ball up," assistant coach Scott Budeselich said. "That said, the bullpen doesn't concern us. We have full confidence in our relievers Olson and Kocinski."

The team looked to bounce back in the second game but was unable to build any momentum. Chicago only managed nine hits and third-year pitcher Matt Altomare was pulled from the game by the third inning.

The losses were crushing for a team that didn't lose consecutive games all of last year, but everyone quickly put the games into perspective.

When the team heads for Florida, the lineup and defense will be bolstered by the return of McCown (.464 OBP in 2003), who hurt his knee in practice last month.

"The team is over it already. We're looking forward to moving on, going down to Florida, and playing. Although we lost two games, it was better that we played them. We're just going to take this experience and build off of it," Budeselich said.