The Maroons split last week's games, blowing out North Park University 15-3 on Wednesday and losing 9-8 to the Illinois Institute of Technology on Friday. Chicago continued to ride a wave of tremendous hitting, while erratic pitching and shaky defense finally caught up with the team in a tough loss to IIT. Chicago now boasts a 14-4 overall record.
Third-year pitcher Andrew Hacker started the game against North Park and added to his recent string of quality outings. He threw five innings of three-run ball to record the victory, improving his season record to 3-1. Most important was Hacker's strong command of the strike zone, something he has displayed all season long. He walked only one batter in Wednesday's action while striking out three. Hacker has won his last three starts and has dropped his season ERA to 5.18.
Most impressive against North Park, however, were the Maroon hitters. The team recorded 14 hits and seven walks, reaching base safely in more than half of their at-bats. Third-year outfielder Jim Raptis continued his outstanding season-long production at the plate, going three for four with a homerun and three RBIs. Raptis leads the team with a .700 slugging-percentage. Also impressive was first-year first baseman Chris Kocinski. Kocinski went 3-4, chipping in two doubles and driving in five base runners.
The U of C faced a tougher opponent and harsher weather on Friday, as fourth-year George Schade took the hill against IIT. Schade was sharp through the first six innings, and Chicago entered the seventh with a 4-2 lead. Schade, who has struggled in his last three starts in the Chicago cold, seemed to run out of gas in the seventh. He hit a batter, committed an error fielding a bunt and gave up two hits and two runs, all without recording a single out. "George has been having some trouble throwing his breaking ball for strikes," said head coach Brian Baldea. "He's a good pitcher, but one who relies heavily on his off-speed stuff." With the score tied at four and runners on first and third, Baldea called in first-year reliever Dan Yeksigian to stop the bleeding.
Yeksigian, who normally displays pinpoint control, was erratic from the start. With a full count on his first batter, he threw a wild pitch in the dirt, allowing the runner to score from third. He then gave up a single and another walk before forcing two ground-ball outs.
With two outs and the bases loaded, the Maroon infield made a defensive blunder that ended up costing them the game. After receiving an outside pitch, fourth-year catcher J.P. Bauman made a heads-up throw to first base to pick off the ITT runner. However, with the runner caught between first and second, first baseman Chris Kocinski failed to check the other runner who was edging off third. As Kocinski ran one ITT player towards second, the other broke towards the plate. Kocinski then threw to shortstop Brent Consiglio, letting the runner score easily from third. Consiglio, who by that time had no play at the plate, held the ball in indecision while the original runner retreated safely back to first. Although Yeksigian struck out the batter to end the inning, the damage had been done.
Chicago failed to score in the bottom of the seventh and remained behind 7-4. As the temperature continued to drop in the top of the eighth, so did the level of Maroon defense. Yeksigian walked the first batter, then forced what looked to be an excellent double play ball out of the second ITT hitter. Consiglio fielded the sharp grounder and flipped to second where third-year Tracey Neubrand had trouble making the turn. He mishandled the transition and double clutched, letting the runner beat out his throw to first. After an ITT double, third-year third baseman Nick Kocinski misplayed an easy groundball. A few pitches later, Bauman attempted to pick a runner off second but threw wide into the outfield, allowing another unearned run to score.
The Maroons headed into the bottom of the eighth trailing 9-4. Here the team finally showed the resilience that they have displayed all season long. After two Chicago walks and a hit batter, Nick Kocinski stepped to the plate hoping to make up for his earlier defensive miscue. After going ahead in the count 0-2, the ITT pitcher tried to jam Kocinski up and in. The fastball never got up and never got in, and Kocinski rocketed a base-clearing double to left-center.
After an ITT error and a Chicago walk, the Maroons looked to be on the verge of taking the lead with the bases loaded and one out. However, all three runners were left stranded after a fielder's choice by second-year Steve Ruh and a fly-out by Neubrand.
After a perfect inning of relief by second-year Dan Harrington, Chicago entered the bottom of the ninth trailing 9-8. Bauman and Raptis both struck out to lead off the inning. After two walks the Maroons still had a glimmer of hope, and Nick Kocinski entered the batter's box hoping to add to his list of heroics. Kocinski lifted the first pitch to right center, and the ITT center fielder got a late jump on the ball. It appeared for a moment that the flare might drop in for a game-tying base hit, but the center fielder turned on the jets to make a running catch to end the game.
Friday's game was certainly a tough defeat, but the Maroons showed again that they are able to fight the odds and come from behind. "I think that the team showed a lot of guts coming from a five-run hole in the last three innings," said Nick Kocinski. "It just shows that we are capable of putting up a lot of runs in a short amount of time and that we are never out of a game no matter what the score."
The Maroons will try to bounce back on Monday as they take on Trinity Christian College at home. Tuesday's game is away at Concordia College. Wednesday the Maroons return home in a rematch against North Park. When asked on Monday how his team responded to last Friday's defeat, Baldea replied simply, "We'll see today."