SPORTS

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April 11, 2006

Hands of stone yield baseball struggles in road doubleheader

With patience at the plate and quality glovework in its first game of the weekend, baseball seemed like it was in for a strong road trip. Things didn’t quite go as planned, as a few innings that just wouldn’t end sealed their fate.

After showing improvements in their previous six games, the Maroons (6–13) went 1–3 over the weekend, splitting their Saturday afternoon doubleheader at IIT (9–15) 7–4, 1–3, before being overrun by Aurora (15–5) 11–3, 10–1 Sunday. Third-year right-hander Dan Cozzi (1–2, 4.76) picked up the Maroons’ only win, scattering eight hits and four runs, one earned, over eight solid frames.

Cozzi’s start seemed in jeopardy at first, as several passed balls and fielding errors allowed IIT to quickly put a three-spot on the board. With renewed focus, Cozzi settled in, silencing the Scarlet Hawks lineup until the seventh, when fourth-year third baseman Greg Albright tripled to bring home IIT’s only other run of the game.

Stuck in a 3–0 hole, the Maroons seemed lifeless at the plate through the first three innings. They finally got things rolling in the fourth, when a sacrifice fly by second-year center fielder/pitcher Nathan Ginsberg (one-for-two, one RBI) scored first-year first baseman Scott Hofer. Third-year shortstop Tony Zitek then singled with the bases loaded to drive in two. With runners on second and third and one out in the eighth, second-year left fielder Mike Serio (two-for-four, two RBI) singled to bring home the Maroons’ final two runs.

Zitek, who also drove in the Maroons’ third run in the sixth, went two-for-four with three RBI on the day.

Things started out well for Chicago in the nightcap, as third-year lefty Robert Wilson allowed one earned run and four hits over four frames. After Wilson allowed a leadoff single to start the fifth, the coaching staff sent second-year righty Dominick Meyer (0–2, 16.62) in from the pen to provide some relief. While Meyer allowed four earned runs on eight hits, he received little help from his defense. The Maroons committed four errors in the inning to give the Scarlet Hawks an additional six unearned runs. With the pitching and defense struggling, Chicago’s offense was unable to pick the team up, going scoreless over the final two innings.

“Our pitchers really did a great job at throwing strikes this weekend, but they didn’t get as much defensive help as they usually do,” Serio said. “The most important thing is to play not just OK or good defense, but excellent defense.”

The fielding and pitching struggles followed the Maroons into Sunday’s action. Fourth-year ace right-hander Dan Yeksigian (4–1, 3.93) toed the rubber against Aurora to open the doubleheader, only to pick up his first loss of the season. The Spartans drove in 11 runs, eight earned, on 10 hits to knock Yeksigian out of the game after 4.2 innings. Aurora’s nine-run explosion in the fifth put the nail in Chicago’s coffin.

“We need to combat those big innings,” Serio said. “We should be trying to put together big innings of our own early on.”

Offensively, the Maroons kept pace with the Spartans until the wild fifth frame. The visitors touched fourth-year right-hander Adam Hutten (2–0, 7.80) for a run in the third on an RBI single off the bat of first-year Travis Blane. One inning later, the Maroons tied it on third-year Allen Cooper’s RBI double. With the game no longer in doubt, Zitek drove in the Maroons’ final run in the top of the seventh with a double that plated third-year first baseman John Thomas.

It was more of the same for Chicago in the capper. Ginsberg (1–2, 6.04) appeared to have his groove through three, allowing only one unearned run and one hit. Things took a 180 degree turn in the fourth, when the heart of the Spartan lineup drove in three runs on as many hits. With one out in the fifth, first-year right-hander Payton Leonhardt (0–1, 6.14) emerged from the bullpen and gave up only one hit in the remaining 1.2 innings.

In a complete-game gem, Spartan third-year right-hander Matt Miller allowed only one run and one hit over seven innings. The Maroons’ only run came in their final at-bats when they capitalized on two walks and a wild pitch to ruin the shutout bid.

Having fallen into a three-game losing streak, the longest since their spring break trip, the Maroons will look to play crisper defense and to produce more at the plate. The team made a total of 12 errors in their three weekend losses.

“At a lot of moments we had gotten two outs, but we just couldn’t make the signature plays we needed to get out of the inning,” fourth-year right-hander Brian Olson said.

Chicago heads back to the diamond this afternoon, taking on Wheaton (9–11) at J. Kyle.

“We know we need to improve on all facets of the game, not just defense,” Olson said. “We’re looking forward to [today’s] game, so that we can go out there and hopefully play better.”