March 30, 2007

Ice cold in Arizona, baseball finds bats in Midwest

Starting out their season by going 3–7 in the Arizona heat, baseball came home knowing they were not living up to their own standards. A hit parade was just what the doctor ordered to get the squad back on its feet.

In their first Midwest game of 2007, Chicago batters pummeled North Central (5–7) for 16 hits en route to an 8–1 victory in Naperville. Matching their season high for most hits in a game, the Maroons (4–7) notched their second win in a row by pouncing on Cardinal hurlers early on in the game. The South Siders knocked in seven runs across the second and third innings.

“A lot of us were disappointed with our performance in Arizona,” third-year left fielder Mike Serio said. “Going three and seven is never acceptable. I look at our win yesterday as another step in the right direction. Hopefully we’ll be able to string together a bunch of good performances.”

Going two-for-five and driving in two runs, Serio’s efforts in the box was second only to fourth-year shortstop Tony Zitek. The senior led the charge with a four-for-five, three-RBI day. Second-year first baseman Kyle Schmitt made a statement of his own, scoring three times and belting three hits in a game that saw seven Cardinals take the mound against Chicago’s unrelenting offensive outburst.

“It did seem like our swings were coming around,” Serio said. “There were a lot of positive at-bats.”

Some wild pitching from Cardinals first-year starter Nate Pingel (0–2, 11.88 ERA) and third-year lefty Eric Hudson helped the Maroons get their onslaught. Already deep into the second inning, Pingel hurt himself by walking Schmitt to load the bases with nobody out. They would remain full for the entire inning, as another walk and a hit batsman pushed across two of the runs.

Chicago’s offensive barrage unfolded in spite of the absence of one of their best hitters, second-year catcher Scott Hofer. The backstop led the Maroons at the plate in 2006 with a whopping .448 average and 23 RBI, but hurt his shoulder while warming up for the squad’s third contest in Arizona against Luther College. He has missed every game since and is undergoing tests to determine the extent of the injury.

Taking Hofer’s place behind the plate, first-year Gino Miglio (.378, .405 slugging, 7 RBI) has demonstrated awesome potential over the past week. The first-year has impressed his teammates with his strong arm, solid work behind the plate, and clutch hitting.

“Right now, Gino is really having a great start to his collegiate career behind the plate as well as in the batter’s box,” fourth-year designated hitter John Thomas said.

The Maroons managed to successfully support their outstanding work at the plate with top-notch pitching performances. With a number of arms worn down from a schedule of daily play over break, four Chicago hurlers split duties on the hill to toss a four-hitter. Fourth-year righty Dan Cozzi (1–1, 7.63 ERA) started things off for the team, giving up North Central’s lone run on two hits. After Cozzi exited the game, second-year righty Alex Gallan, fourth-year southpaw Robert Wilson, and second-year righty Payton Leonhardt came in to seal the win. Wilson saw the most action, allowing just one hit and striking out two over 4 2/3 frames.

Looking to keep up a winning streak and continue their offensive dominance, the Maroons will head north on Saturday to face off against the Milwaukee School of Engineering (0–19). They’ll return to Chicago for their home opener in double-header action Sunday afternoon against Lakeland (6–8) at J. Kyle.

“It was important for us to get onto a good start when we’re back home in Chicago,” Thomas said. “It’s a whole new season.”