[img id="80569" align="alignleft"] With the baseball season nearing its end, Chicago’s struggle to build up some momentum and find consistency on the field continued into this week.
The Maroons (8–13) were set back with an 8–2 trouncing by a lackluster Elmhurst (11–24) in a matchup Tuesday that they were counting on to get them ready for Wheaton (20–12). Hosting the Thunder the next afternoon, the team managed to pull together for one of its best games of the spring, getting behind second-year Joseph Pankow for a 6–4 win.
Poor fielding played a large role in the loss to the Blue Jays. Of the seven runs given up by first-year starting pitcher Marshall Oium (0–2, 5.19 ERA), only three were earned. However, with 13 men left on the base paths, the Maroons’ inability to string together a few RBI hits contributed to Tuesday’s troubles.
“There were a few errors, but for the most part, they were getting a lot of hits and putting runs on the board,” second-year third baseman Ben Nordstrom said. “We just failed to match them at the plate.”
After an all-around bad day at the plate and in the field, the Maroons turned things around against playoff-bound Wheaton. The Thunder came to J. Kyle after completing a three-game sweep of Elmhurst Friday and Saturday.
In a slugfest, Wheaton scored 57 runs against the Blue Jays over the weekend, but Pankow (3–2, 3.88) silenced that offense with seven scoreless innings. The Maroons gave him an early lead to work with, after third-year catcher Scott Hofer cracked a two-run homer in the bottom of the first.
Hofer went 3–4 with a pair of RBI from the cleanup spot Wednesday and was part of the double steal in the third that gave Chicago a 3–0 lead. He set things up with a single to left that pushed third-year Kyle Schmitt to third base. On the next at bat, he sprinted to second while Schmitt swiped home.
Despite the three-run lead, the Maroons had little breathing room over a Wheaton team that had amassed a .353 team batting average and posted 23 runs in a single game against Elmhurst.
The daunting task of facing the Thunder’s lineup fell on Pankow’s shoulders, who allowed only four hits, struck out five, and kept the Thunder off the board through his seven innings of work.
“Joseph was outstanding,” assistant coach Scott Budeselich said. “Wheaton is a great hitting team, but you would have never have known it the way he handled them. He kept us in the game against a tough opponent, and we were able to exploit it for the win.”
A late, eighth-inning rally doubled the Maroons’ lead after a two-run triple by the new designated hitter, fourth-year Dominik Meyer. Meyer then scored as the Wheaton outfielder overthrew third base, giving Chicago a 6–0 advantage as it headed into the ninth for the final three outs.
Turns out the team needed the extra insurance. First-year pitcher Dan McConologue entered the game, continuing Pankow’s success and the shutout of Wheaton in the eighth. But the rookie reliever found himself in trouble after a shaky start to the ninth.
Fourth-year catcher Nate Pugh began the inning for the Thunder with a single. Following a walk by McConologue and an error by second-year shortstop Rob Serpico, Pugh found himself on third. With the bases loaded and only one out, the Thunder wasn’t giving up on a win.
“They were starting to really come back, but I had full confidence in him to close out the game,” Nordstrom said of McConologue’s presence on the mound.
The rookie procured the save, but he didn’t leave the game unscathed. Two consecutive singles knocked in three runs for Wheaton, and the visitors added another on a throwing error by fourth-year center fielder Mike Morgan.
With the score now 6–4, the Thunder still wasn’t done. McConologue struck out rookie first baseman Danny Pyne, bringing up the man who started it all, Pugh, with two outs and men in scoring position.
A single to the outfield would have easily tied the game, but McConologue remembered Pugh’s previous at bat and adjusted for the 6-foot-1 catcher. McConologue caught the catcher swinging at strike three, ending the four-run rally and securing Chicago’s win.
As the team travels to Aurora today to challenge the 22–15 Spartans, coaches and players will look for the big win over Wheaton as a launching pad to end the final week of the season on a high note.
“We would like to build on what we did Wednesday at the plate and on the mound. Hopefully in the process we can put together a little win streak together to close out the season,” Budeselich said.