SPORTS

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May 13, 2008

Maroons hang on for late inning win

[img id="80606" align="alignleft"] When fourth-year designated hitter Dominik Meyer dug into the batter’s box in the eighth inning of Friday’s game against Illinois Tech, the odds were stacked against him.

Chicago trailed by a run and late-inning surges had been few and far between for the team this season. The Maroons hadn’t overcome a deficit in the eighth inning or later for a win and this year have scored a combined total of 14 runs in the final two frames.

Four more outs were all the squad had left of a 2008 campaign marred by inconsistency, and the cold weather continued the poor playing conditions of the spring. In a situation where it looked like the team was doomed to repeat the disappointments of the season, Meyer delivered a win.

Adding to the drama of the moment, it was also Meyer’s final at-bat after four years of Chicago baseball.

“That thought didn’t cross my mind,” Meyer said. “Down one, I was just trying to give the team a good at bat. I got a pitch to hit, and I hit it.”

With two outs and a runner on first, Meyer belted a two-run shot that put the Maroons ahead 3–2, a lead that second-year pitcher Joe Pankow (5–2, 3.62 ERA) would hang onto to close the season on a high note.

“To be his last at bat is just awesome,” second-year shortstop Rob Serpico said of Meyer’s late heroics. “He was only playing because that was his last game. He got on base earlier and just hobbled around the bases.”

Meyer had to come off the field during the last doubleheader at J. Kyle and hadn’t played in the three away games since. Back in the lineup for the season finale, Chicago scored the first run with an RBI by Serpico in the top of seventh before Illinois Tech (11–23) bounced back in its half of the inning for two unearned runs and a 2–1 lead.

Then, after fourth-year third baseman Mike Serio singled with one out in the eighth, Meyer’s blast set up the win for the South Siders.

“No one thought it was going out,” Pankow said of the homer that tore through the cold that had contributed to limiting both sides to a combined 11 hits on the day.

No one, that is, except for Meyer, who felt the homerun as soon as the ball touched the bat. He circled the bases before an ecstatic Maroons squad, along with his tearing mother.

“[My parents] were really big supporters of baseball for me for the last 17 years, so it was an emotional time,” Meyer said. “I don’t think the moment has hit me yet.”

Meanwhile, Pankow held the Scarlet Hawks to just five hits and no earned runs en route to pitching his fifth complete game of the season.

“We played good defense, had some timely hitting, and that’s what you need to win a baseball game,” Pankow said

The Maroons finished the season with three wins in their final four games, a stretch they had matched just once prior to this season.

“We finished the season pretty well and started to pick it up at the end,” Serio said.

A 4–2 start to the season had the Maroons optimistic, as the squad appeared to be moving away from its tendency to start slow and finish strong. However, inconsistency and some bad luck left the South Siders unable to hold their momentum and they finished at 11–17 for their first sub-.500 season since 1999.

“We would do certain things well certain games; we weren’t putting things together,” Serpico said. “We had the talent, the thing we didn’t do is put it all together in a certain game. Baseball is an interesting game. You could be on fire and all of the sudden it stops, or you could be cold and one day you go three-for-three.”

Several weather-related cancellations also left the Maroons with a slow schedule to start the season, playing just three games between March 30 and April 16.

“We went through a stretch where we were playing one game a week, and it can be hard to hit when you’re not playing very often,” Meyer said.

However, several strong individual performances provided bright spots for the Maroons.

Meyer, who won five games with a 1.82 ERA for Chicago last season, switched from being the team’s ace pitcher to the club’s most dependable hitter.

“I hadn’t hit for six or seven years,” Meyer said. “Lowered expectations for myself helped me deal with it…. I didn’t feel a whole lot on my shoulders.”

He finishes the year with a .352 average, batting .400 with runners on. He also led the team with 17 RBI and a .466 slugging percentage.

Pankow, whose first season was marred by injury, jumped from 12 innings pitched in 2007 to a team-leading 64.2 innings pitched in 2008. Over nine appearances he yielded a .267 average to opposing hitters.

“It felt good to come back, to come off an injury and be able to pitch again,” Pankow said.

With four seniors graduating, the Maroons will have to find a way to fill the spots left by Meyer and Nate Ginsberg, who rotated between right field and the mound. For the returning players, next year will focus on regaining consistency and returning to winning seasons.

“If we’re calm and confident, that’ll go a long way,” Serpico said.