SPORTS

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April 3, 2009

Charged offense meets sloppy defense over .500 spring start

A third of the way through the season, men’s baseball is an even 5–5, though there is reason to believe the rest of the season might not be so average.

Last week, Chicago traveled to Arizona for their annual spring break trip, where they faced the likes of Knox, MIT, Eastern Connecticut State, Luther, Calvin, Colby, and Buena Vista. While the trip spanned only seven days and seven teams, the Maroons played a total of 10 games. Doubleheaders came against MIT, Eastern Connecticut State, and Colby.

The first game against Knox set an offensive tone that would reverberate throughout the week. Chicago racked up 22 runs, while limiting their opponent to five.

“We could tell in the winter that we were going to a more solid hitting team with the addition of some freshmen that could hit,” said third-year Joe Pankow, who pitched six innings that game and maintains a 2.91 ERA.

First-year hitters were led by the 6-foot-3 Trace Capps and Stephen Williams. Capps hit .459 for the trip and Williams launched three home-runs. With their efforts, the Maroons averaged a solid nine runs per game.

If anything must improve, it is the defense. As well as the offense played, the defense played equally poorly, allowing an average of nine runs a game.

The same unit that stifled Knox in the first game allowed 14 runs in a loss to MIT the next game; two games later, they allowed 20 runs to pass against Eastern Connecticut State.

Pitching was one area of concern for head coach Brian Baldea, who noticed that “most pitchers had one good outing, and one poor outing.” Another cause for complaint was the outfield defense; often they failed to pick up the slack when the pitching wavered.

In total, Chicago’s defense committed 26 errors. Fortunately, the team still has time to smooth out its fielding, which is why fourth-year Kyle Schmitt, now with the second highest batting average, is confident that “this year we will finish with a higher win-loss ratio than we had in Arizona.” Some of the other players and Baldea are similarly hopeful.

With a young team in a young season, Chicago knows it has time on its side. With the roster tilted towards the younger end, Baldea knows his team will improve tremendously given more practices in between games. He hopes to focus on the little defensive mistakes—the errors that players can easily fix.

Also, more time will grant the pitchers more rest. Chicago’s main pitchers, Pankow and second-year Dan McConologue, were both strained with 13 or more innings in Arizona—and they still managed winning records.

Another way to spark the defense could be to follow fourth-year catcher Tom Gonzalez’s example. His fielding average of .967 has anchored a shaky unit.

Gonzalez’s experience has yet to take full effect. An example of Chicago’s youth is their inability to close out close games. This “was the difference between going 8–2 in Arizona and going 5–5,” Schmitt said.

For example, Chicago blew a 4–2 lead to Colby by allowing seven runs in the final inning. In the final game against Buena Vista, Chicago dropped six runs in the last three innings to lose by five.

If the defense can mature and learn from its mistakes, Chicago could be a threat down the road. The good news is, they’ve already shown the ability to do just that. In all three doubleheaders, the Maroons lost the first game, only to win the second.

For now, the game plan is simple.

“If we can [be defensively strong], with our offense, we’re gonna be successful more often than not,” said Baldea.