SPORTS

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April 22, 2008

Despite early lead, baseball's offense can't keep up in loss

Stepping up to the plate with hopes high, baseball took an early lead against Dominican University last Wednesday. Yet it was early in the game, and while the Stars had lost this early battle, they would go on to win the war.

Taking advantage of weak pitching, the Maroons (6–7) established an early 3–0 lead at Alexius Field. It was not to last. Mounting a relentless push, Dominican (9–15) scored at least one run in every inning following the third, quickly overcoming Chicago’s initial gains. Despite an attempted rally, the South Siders could not regain their momentum, ultimately falling to their opponents 12–7.

“This was a game we should have won,” fourth-year third baseman Mike Serio said. “But it was a wake-up call that we need to play better as a team.”

From the beginning, the game shifted back and forth between the Maroons and Dominican. The first inning passed by quietly, neither team able to advance beyond third base. Determined to make up for its lack of progress, Chicago set the pace in the bottom of the second. In the first of many blunders in the inning, Dominican fourth-year Merak Metz walked third-year Kyle Schmitt to first, followed by second-year Rob Serpico. Third-year Travis Blane singled to first, putting his teammates in a position to put up some offense.

Keeping up the inning’s trend, fourth-year Mike Morgan walked to first, sending Schmitt across home. With Chicago up 1–0, Metz was swapped out for first-year Daniel Hunnoway to halt the Maroon advance. Hunnoway proceeded to pick up right where Metz left off, walking first-year Nick Fazzari, and letting Serpico cross home for another run.

Getting the Dominican pitching game back together, Hunnoway struck out first-year Kevin Holzbog. Serio’s hit struck back, allowing Blane to dash home. Bitterly finishing off the inning, the Dominicans managed to strike out one last batter, ending the second in a 3–0 hole.

Entrenched in their lead, the Maroons kept Dominican from taking any points in the top of the second. Quickly countering, the Stars got their defense back in shape, preventing Chicago from lengthening its lead. Now up to bat, the home team readied themselves to take revenge for the second inning. Setting the tone, second-year Kevin Cahill hit a single, a play repeated immediately by fourth-year Nathan Mercado.

Firing single after single, the Dominican offense quickly racked up runs, with four Star players crossing the plate. With the tables now turned and the score at 4–3, the game had taken a turn for the worse for Chicago.

“They scored some runs, and we just didn’t answer,” Serio said. “We needed to hit the ball better, needed to string together more hits. We didn’t do that prior to the third or after.”

Having shattered the Maroons’ early advantage, Dominican held tightly to its lead. The Stars prevented the offense from scoring a single run for five innings, a game-breaking defense from which Chicago could not recover. Taking advantage of their momentum, the Stars slowly climbed further ahead of the Maroons, scoring a run for each one they denied. With Dominican up 7–3 in the eighth inning, Chicago was bent to get the game back.

Crushing all Chicago’s hopes, Dominican reeled out a string of runs in the top of the eighth. Slamming out a hail of singles and doubles, the Stars offense put a five-run nail in the disappointed Maroons’ coffin. Opening and closing with doubles, fourth-year Ryan Tlusty and third-year Keith Halverson ended all hopes of a Maroon comeback.

Undeterred by the 12–3 score, Chicago narrowed the Dominican lead with four runs of its own. In a replay of the second inning, the Stars pitchers continued to bumble their throws. Second-year Dominik Meyer took a hit, followed by both Blane and Schmitt taking walks. These errors allowed third-year Thomas Gonzalez to cross the plate, with men on both third and second. Finishing the game strong, Morgan slammed out a double, closing the day at Alexius 12–7.

“When you lose, you don’t think about individual efforts. You can’t say, ‘We lost, but I did well.’ It doesn’t matter. It’s a team game, and we are all pretty upset that we lost. We need to pay attention to the fact that we need to improve and focus on the team as a whole,” Serio said.

It was a disappointing loss for the Maroons, who had eked out a win the previous Saturday against North Central. With a tough schedule and tough competition, the spring has been an up and down one for Chicago. Their recent loss to Dominican places their season record at 6–7, giving new importance to their upcoming games. The team will not be able to rely on fumbled pitches in their Wednesday game against Elmhurst, as those gifts are usually rare. If they can rally and play as they did in the second and ninth innings of their Dominican game, the Maroons will have a chance to turn the season around in time for their big opponents.

“We can’t devote more effort to a conference, so we want every game just as bad. Carthage and Rockford are down the line, some of the top opponents in the region. We need to wake up, play better, and do really well in the stretch that we have for the next few weeks,” Serio said.