April 13, 2004

Defensive struggles hurt baseball

The holiday weekend came and went for the Maroons, and not a day too soon. The team went a disappointing 1-2 over the weekend, starting with a ninth inning, 5-4 loss in its game against Illinois Tech on the road Friday. Chicago battled back from the defeat during the first game of a doubleheader on Saturday, nipping Concordia University 12-11 in the first game. In the second half of the twin bill, the Maroons played sloppy defense and lost with a score of 12-9. Though several members of the team put together fine days at the plate, poor play on defense neutralized these performances.

The doubleheader on Saturday was particularly representative of a collapse on defense, even considering two last-minute injuries. Fourth-year pitching staff ace Andrew Hacker experienced discomfort in his elbow while warming up for his game-one start, and he was scratched right before game time. Also, fourth-year starting shortstop Brent Consiglio did not start the second game of the doubleheader because of a nagging leg injury.

Despite these factors, the team seemed to have a realistic chance of sweeping the doubleheader and salvaging the weekend.

By the end of the third inning of the second game against Concordia (15-10), the Maroons held a strong 6-2 lead. However, the lead quickly evaporated and put the Maroons on the ropes for the game. Thanks to the Maroons' grand total of five errors from the fourth inning on, the Cougars of Concordia jumped right back and overtook the Maroons.

Among the glaring individual mistakes of the game were two fielding errors by fourth-year Ben McCown, who moved from second base to shortstop to replace the ailing Consiglio, and an ill-advised throwing error by fourth-year Tracey Neubrand, who filled in at second base.

In addition, poor throws from the outfield opened the floodgates for a six-run fourth inning in which the Cougars managed to bat around in the order. Though the pitchers had little help from their defense, fourth-year pitcher Matt Altomare added that the staff "just couldn't throw strikes consistently."

The Chicago pitching staff would end up with 18 walks on the day, including three with the bases loaded. "We did walk a lot of people yesterday, but I think the umpiring did have something to do with it. It was a really tight strike zone," said first-year Robert Wilson, who pitched in relief in the first game.

Though the Maroons played poorly in the field throughout the day, the team would not make excuses for their defensive mistakes. Both Altomare and Wilson refused to attribute the poor play to the weather, despite the cold temperatures that set in by early afternoon on Saturday.

The cold temperatures may have, however, contributed to Consiglio's shin injury. "Anytime you have that type of injury it's a lot harder to get loose in the cold," Wilson said.

The outlooks for the two injured players are very different. "Brent will bounce back quickly, but Hacker's elbow condition may be serious," Altomare said. Nonetheless, the whole pitching staff, with or without Hacker, "needs to throw more strikes."

The Maroons continued their strong offensive output even in the face of their other difficulties. McCown, made up for some of his fielding woes, going 1-3 with two RBI in the second game on Saturday. Fourth-year outfielder Jim Raptis continued to hit well, going 4-7 on the entire day. Still, team defense let the Maroons down all afternoon, and the bats couldn't add a few more runs to push the team ahead.

On Friday against Illinois Tech (12-14), the Maroons had the opposite problem when they didn't hurt themselves defensively but could never get an extended offensive run going. First-year Dan Cozzi pitched well in the seventh and eighth innings to hold the Maroons' 4-3 lead into the bottom of the ninth inning.

After Cozzi walked a batter with one out, head coach Brian Baldea brought in fourth-year closer Nick Kocinski to finish the job. He didn't have much of a chance to pitch, however, as he gave up a two-run, walk off homer to Tech cleanup hitter Elvis Medina on a belt high pitch.

As Baldea said, "If there is any one thing we would love to be better at, it would be defense." The team feels that the key to its season will be in becoming more consistent with the glove.

Baseball is looking to get back on track at Rockford in a weekday doubleheader beginning at 2 p.m.