SPORTS

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April 20, 2004

Baseball outsluggs opponents at home

Despite scores that may suggest otherwise, the Chicago football team was not in action this weekend. Instead, the men's baseball team continued its offensive explosion and won three games over the weekend, including two last-at-bat wins in Sunday's doubleheader. The team has accumulated a record of 17-9 with three weeks to go in the regular season.

The Maroons produced a total of 35 runs over three games. Despite all the scoring, not one of the games could have been categorized as an easy win. Friday afternoon's slugfest ended in a score of 17-12, and both of Sunday's wins came in the bottom of the seventh.

On Friday, Chicago beat the weak North Park (2-20-1) squad at home by simply outscoring them. Among the outstanding offensive performances of the game were third-year designated hitter Justin Garrett, who went 3---4 with four RBI, and third-year catcher T.J. Rajcevich, who contributed a 2-5 effort with three RBI and a walk. The Maroons felt that the game shouldn't have been as close as it was, but the win was decisive in the end.

In Sunday's games against Edgewood, a solid team that came in at 21-11, the numbers were no less impressive. Fourth-year shortstop Brent Consiglio came back nicely from a nagging leg injury that had kept him out of the last four games. He contributed a 3-4 effort with a double in the first game. Fourth-year outfielder Jim Raptis hit his fourth homer of the year and second of the week over the fence in leftfield.

Third-year pitcher Steven Ruh not only had the game-winning RBI with a bases- loaded walk, but he also pitched the entirety of the second game to get the win and improve to 1-1 on the season. He was only asked to get the team through the fifth inning, but his 11 strikeouts and ability to prevent big innings kept him on the mound.

The pitching effort still was only enough to keep the game tied at five going into the bottom of the seventh. Third-year designated hitter Mike Costello, who entered in the fifth, was hit by a pitch and moved to second when Raptis walked. Fourth-year third baseman Nick Kocinski was told to bunt the runners over to set up a sacrifice fly situation. He successfully got the first pitch down on the third-base side, and the pitcher fielded it only to throw it wild to first base. Costello came around easily to score the game-winning run, giving the Maroons a morale boost.

Despite the positive results in terms of wins and offense that came out of the weekend, the Maroons continued to struggle in their weakest area: defense. First-year reliever Dan Cozzi, who performed well on Sunday in relief of third-year Dan Harrington, offered a blunt assessment when asked if the defense had improved significantly over last week's debacle. "Nope," he answered. "We still need work."

In the win on Friday, the Maroons committed a total of five errors. In the two games on Sunday, the Maroons had eight total errors, the same number as last weekend's split against Concordia. Although the number of miscues was still high, the return of Consiglio to shortstop, which moved fourth-year Ben McCown back to second base, helped steady the infield play. His injury continued to nag him, however, and he had to be lifted in the second game after planting his leg to set up for a cutoff throw from leftfield. While the bats continue to out-hit opponents, the team will need to improve as the schedule gets harder.

It remains unclear whether the team's record this far is enough to get them to the postseason. Cozzi refused to speculate, citing head coach Brian Baldea's policy of focusing on "the next game." The team is following up a 25-6 season, and expectations were high coming into this year. Though no one on the team has said that the year has been disappointing thus far, late-inning losses and pitching struggles have put more pressure on the Maroons in their remaining games.

Because Chicago baseball does not play in a conference, it must rely on one of eight at-large bids to get into the postseason. The team will need to gain consistency in order to get in stride long enough to get a significant winning streak going again and make a serious run at the playoffs. Their biggest asset right now is that their offense is scoring 12 runs a game, the second -best rate in the nation and 2.5 more than last year's squad.

The Maroons play at home on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week, against Wheaton College and North Park. Their game against rival Benedictine looms on the home schedule Saturday, May 1. The season ends on May 8, and postseason berths and seeding will be determined shortly thereafter.