One of the great things about sports is that the outcomes are decided on the field. A win is a win and a loss is a call for improvement. Sometimes, though, a win -- or a school-record 26 of them -- isn't enough. This point was made extremely clear to the Chicago baseball team on Saturday, May 12. The Maroons swept a doubleheader against the Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE) on Saturday by scores of 6-2 and 5-3, only to find out on Monday that it would not be enough to earn them a spot in the postseason tournament.
The doubleheader against MSOE was a good snapshot of the Maroons' entire season. Playing MSOE (7-31), a weak opponent, Chicago dominated the first game only to find themselves down late in the second game and needing a clutch performance to pull out the win.
Freshman Andrew Hacker was the starting pitcher for the first game and his team didn't let him down offensively, as he improved his record to 6-2. Eight players hit safely for Chicago and second-year catcher J.P. Bauman led the way with two RBIs.
It was a game in which Chicago played the way it is capable of playing and should play against competition like MSOE. In the second game, though, the Maroons fell back into old habits and played to the level of their opponent.
Chicago was on track for a loss in the nightcap as the seventh and final inning began. The Maroons found themselves down 3-2 with two outs and no base runners, a situation eerily similar to those found on the back of those No Fear t-shirts. Fortunately third-year Brett Nunziata, second-year J.P. Bauman and third-year Joe Russo proved fearless.
Nunziata singled on the fifth pitch he saw to start the rally. Fleet-footed pinch runner Colin Decker took his place on the base path and scored on a double by Bauman. Tied 3-3 at that point Russo stepped up to the plate. With a mighty swing he blasted a two-run homer to give Chicago the win. It was fourth-year pitcher Wayne Headley's 10th win of the season. It was also his sixth complete game as he went undefeated on the year.
"The team had mixed feelings after the sweep of MSOE. Some guys were still skeptical about our chances, but others thought we were in for sure," said Russo.
As the Maroons' season has ended, now they can only sit and wonder what it will take to make the postseason. Not only did they post the best record in school history at 26-8, but they swept a series against Aurora College, a team that was granted a spot. One possible explanation for their rejection is the inferiority of their competition. Teams like MSOE with very poor records pepper their schedule. Chicago's one chance to play against the best competition in the country came at a spring break tournament in Florida where they picked up four of their eight losses.
"The games in Florida are very important," one player said. "Wins look very good when we play teams like COE [regional opponent], Allegheny, and Amherst College."
While this season is over, Chicago's future looks bright.
"Next year we should be even better record-wise. We only lose two seniors and the strength of our schedule will hopefully improve. Everybody really wants to play teams like Augustana and Carthage, but is up to them to decide," said first baseman Russo.
Chicago will return with a strong group of starters and reserves. Among them are the 2001 season's top two hitters Bauman and Nunziata. First-years like Nick Kocinski will suit up next year as seasoned veterans. No doubt Chicago will continue in the tradition of excellence that it has now established.