Third-year catcher T. J. Rajcevich had the confidence and resolve to come through in the clutch for the Maroon baseball squad on Tuesday at home against North Central.
"As I took off my leg guards in the dugout, I told [third-year pitcher Matt] Altomare, I'm ending this game,'" said Rajcevich, who came up to the plate in the bottom of the ninth inning with the game tied at five, two outs, and two men on base. With a 1-1 count, Rajcevich took the outside fastball into right centerfield, scoring third-year Steve Ruh from second base and picking up the come-from-behind victory 6-5.
It was Chicago's usual offensive explosiveness waking up and two costly errors by North Central's (15-15) defense that helped the Maroons overcome a 5-3 deficit in the ninth. Fourth-year designated hitter Tracey Neubrand led off the inning with a groundball that the third baseman watched go through his legs. Neubrand then advanced to second on a hit by fourth-year Jim Raptis. Fourth-year Nick Kocinski laid down a bunt to advance the runners.
Ruh's infield single scored first-year John Thomas, who was pinch running for Neubrand, and put the go-ahead run on base. With two outs, Garrett reached first base on the shortstop's error, and Raptis crossed the plate, tying the game at five and setting up Rajcevich's game-winner.
On the defensive side of things, Altomare's work on the mound should not be overlooked. He went seven innings, allowing two runs on four hits, while striking out eight batters. He has struggled recently with command of his curveball, but he was able to make up for the loss of his out pitch with good location and life on his fastball and changeup.
"For the most part, I just threw fastballs," Altomare said. "My curve wasn't really working, but my fastballs had some good movement."
Even though it did not mean a tally in the personal wins or losses column for Altomare, he was nonetheless proud of his team's effort to hang on and come from behind.
"It showed a lot of heart scoring three runs in the bottom of the ninth," Altomare said.
Second-year reliever Brian Olson was credited with the win, bringing his record to 4-0. He entered in the ninth with a man on first and one out. The run would score to give North Central a two-run lead, but a base-running blunder took the Cardinals out of the inning. Third-year Rich Ochenkowski broke from third on a hit-and-run and was caught in a rundown for the second out. Olson struck out the Cardinals's fourth-hitter to get out of the inning.
On Wednesday, the Maroons suffered a 19-13 loss at Carthage College in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Prior to facing Chicago, Carthage (26-6) had allowed its opponents eight or fewer runs in all but one game, and the Maroons shattered that mark by five. The one exception to Carthage's eight-run cap was, interestingly enough, its 13-7 loss to North Central in early April.
With the wind blowing fiercely towards right centerfield, Carthage knew it would get a taste of Chicago's prolific offense. It put on a show of its own, though, hitting five home runs in the game. Four of them occurred with two outs in Carthage's ten-run fifth inning that knocked Chicago behind for good.
Three Maroons notched home runs of their own. Kocinski hit his first four-bagger of the season and had three other hits in the contest. Raptis hit his sixth home run of the season, and fourth-year second baseman Ben McCown belted his fourth. McCown had 3 RBI on the day, giving him a team-leading 47 on the season, and Ruh collected 4.
Chicago led 7-6 after four-and-a-half innings, but pitching struggles in the fifth robbed them of any momentum. Carthage took the score to 19-6 by the end of the sixth inning, after scoring 15 runs in three innings. The offense crept back but ultimately came up short.
"It's frustrating because they were a beatable team," second-year right fielder Ryan Denton said.
With Wednesday's loss, Chicago falls to 21-10 on the year. A win against Carthage would have bolstered Chicago's chances of qualifying for postseason play.
"We competed with one of the stronger teams in the nation, and a win could've given us good momentum going into a long weekend," McCown said.
Chicago will face Benedictine College in a doubleheader at home on Saturday, followed by a road trip to Indiana to meet Rose-Hulman in a pair of games on Sunday. There is no question that the Maroons must have a successful weekend to have a shot at the playoffs.
"If we want to make a move toward the postseason," fourth-year shortstop Brent Consiglio said, "we're going to have to stick our noses in it the rest of the way."