April 26, 2005

Home run flurry powers baseball to big sweep

On a blustery day in New Berlin, WI, the Maroons had the wind at their backs. That may have been all they needed to shake off the monkey that had been hanging there all season.

Led by monster performances from fourth-years shortstop/reliever Steve Ruh and center fielder Frank Brown, and ably assisted by gutsy pitching from third-year starter Dan Yeksigian and fourth-year starter Dan Harrington, baseball (9-14) swept a double-header from the Milwaukee School of Engineering (10-24) 14-5, 13-6 Sunday. The victories gave the team a three-game winning streak, its longest all season, and its fourth win in six games.

The Maroons made the day's tough weather conditions work in their favor, as team members combined for five home runs on the afternoon, led by one in each game by Brown and a grand slam in the second showdown by third-year designated hitter Ryan Denton. Neither player had knocked one over the fence in the team's previous 21 games. Ruh and first-year outfielder Nate Ginsberg also each hit their first homers of the season.

"The weather definitely helped us with the fly balls. We took advantage of the wind going out to right center," assistant coach Scott Budeselich said. "But we took better advantage of it than MSOE did. We didn't have any pop-ups going over the wall; we had five legitimate home runs."

"Going into the game we knew that the weather would be a factor, with the wind blowing straight out," said fourth-year first baseman Justin Garrett, who collected three walks and three runs on the day. "Our pitchers did a nice job at keeping them off-balance and keeping the ball down so MSOE could not get it in the air too much. Offensively, we obviously took advantage as well."

The combination worked like a charm in the first game, as Brown's first round-tripper led off what eventually became a six-run second frame for the Maroons. Ruh had a bases-clearing double for three RBI in the inning, and Denton and fourth-year left fielder Mike Costello each chipped in an RBI apiece. Ruh (3-for-5, 1 R, 5 RBI) and Costello (2-for-4, 4 RBI) both added to the carnage with big hits later in the game, but the early explosion was all the Maroons would need.

"It's always nice to pitch with a lead early. It takes a lot of pressure off of the pitchers," Budeselich said.

Yeksigian (4-3, 4.34) made the lead stick for Chicago, going the distance and giving up five runs on 10 hits and four walks, despite recording five strikeouts. Aside from the Raiders fourth, in which the home team tagged him for four runs on five hits, Yeksigian gave a solid performance on a tough day for pitchers. He has now won three straight decisions in the last 12 days.

"He's really focused, and he's got good strength right now," Budeselich said. "He's been bouncing back well after three or four days of rest with a bunch of complete games."

Yeksigian's staff-mates acquitted themselves nicely in the second game, as Harrington (1-3, 6.44) worked through some early bumps and a two-run error in the second to earn the win. Harrington gave up six runs, four earned, on eight hits, two walks, and nine strikeouts in five innings before first-year reliever Dominik Meyer (0-2, 6.75) and Ruh (0-1, 3.00) each turned in a scoreless inning to shut the door.

"The wind was blowing in the faces of the pitchers, and they were fighting it all day, so they couldn't dominate the way they would have liked to," Budeselich said. "The staff is still walking too many, particularly at the beginnings of innings, but the stiff wind contributed to that on Sunday. There weren't a lot of hard hit balls from MSOE, just a bunch of weak grounders making it through."

The Maroons were not going to be nickel and dimed out of a victory, as they unloaded on hapless Raiders fourth-year starter Tim Hendrick (0-5) for four runs in the first inning and eight in the third. Ruh and Brown each had a two-run dinger before MSOE even got up to bat.

Working out of the stretch all start long, Hendrick barely got out of a bases-loaded situation in the second, but couldn't repeat the trick the next time around, hitting Ginsberg and walking second-years infielder John Thomas and second baseman Tony Zitek to force in runs before being relieved. Fourth-year third baseman/catcher T.J. Rajcevich worked another walk against Raiders third-year reliever Matt Markunas before Denton put an exclamation point on the game with a grand slam to center for the 12-3 lead.

Ruh's two RBI gave him seven for the day. He also had a pair of doubles on the afternoon, giving him 12 on the season, just six short of the Maroons' season record with at least 12 more to play. Brown helped him pace the offense, going four-for-seven.

"Steve is really starting to hit the way we thought he could. He's really zoned in right now. Frank Brown is also in his comfort zone, and hitting the way we expected him to earlier in the season," Budeselich said.

"Frank had a career day," Garrett said, "and Steve came up big for us all day."

The Maroons have been on fire in recent days, averaging 8.8 runs per game over their last 10. They hope to continue their success this afternoon in a road double-header against North Park. Fourth-year starter Matt Altomare (1-3, 8.22) and third-year starter/reliever Brian Olson (1-2, 9.00) will likely start. Tomorrow, they face seventh-ranked Carthage at home, in a game that should be pitched by committee as the team's stretch of seven games in as many days rolls on.

"The main effect of having so many games is that a few pitchers who haven't thrown much lately need to chip in and help out," Budeselich said.