May 16, 2003

Playoff selection committee snubs baseball team

After their final two games were rained out on Saturday, the Chicago baseball team's postseason hopes were washed away Monday when the NCAA selection committee denied them a play-off berth. Despite compiling an impressive 25-6 record, Chicago was not one of the seven Pool B Independent teams included in this year's NCAA Division III postseason field of 42 schools. The Maroons ended the season ranked 30th in the ABCA national poll, the first such ranking in Chicago's history.

Although the Maroons' winning percentage ranked 11th best in the country, when it came to postseason selection the team was passed over in favor of schools that played tougher schedules. "Chicago's problem for the past few years has been strength of schedule," said John Edwards, a member of the eight person selection committee. "What I told [Chicago head coach] Brian [Baldea] is that he's going to have to schedule more games against teams with above .500 records."

Among the independent teams making the tournament ahead of the Maroons were Emory (32-13) and Brandeis (22-11-1). The Maroons were 1-2 against playoff bound teams, losing the first game of their season to Rowan and splitting a doubleheader against Benedictine.

Despite failing to make the playoffs, the Maroons' season was a success in almost every aspect. Powerful and consistent hitting placed Chicago tenth nationally in scoring with 9.5 runs per game and ninth in batting average with a team mark of .362. The club got production out of every spot in the lineup, and it seemed as if a new offensive hero emerged each game.

"It's hard to compare this team against ones from years back," Baldea said, "but this may be the deepest team we've ever had."

Consistently leading the offensive onslaught were third-year third baseman Nick Kocinski and third-year left fielder Jim Raptis. Kocinski knocked in crucial runs nearly every game, finishing first on the team in hitting with a .429 average and also pacing the squad with 33 RBIs. Time and time again Raptis exploded from his deep crouch at the plate, putting up Bagwell-esque numbers of .423 BA and 32 RBIs. He scored a team-high 37 runs and hit six homeruns.

Also impressive was fourth-year, captain, and catcher J.P. Bauman. Bauman was patient in the box all season long, finishing with a .382 average and a team-leading .510 on-base percentage. Third-year second baseman Tracey Neubrand served as offensive catalyst from the second position in the lineup, bursting onto the scene in his first year as a fulltime starter. The Texas native provided plenty of chatter from the dugout, and pop from his bat, hitting .398 while compiling 27 runs and 30 RBIs.

Third-year shortstop Brent Consiglio featured a quick bat and timely hitting en route to four homeruns and a .385 average. After an early season slump, fourth-year outfielder Sam Kass tore through the second half, finishing with an outstanding .367 average while leading the team with 11 stolen bases. Kass was also terrific in the field, providing incredible range and recording three assists in crucial situations.

Younger players also contributed to the Maroons' production at the plate. First-year first baseman Chris Kocinski followed in his brother's footsteps to the tune of a .359 average and 27 runs scored. Second-year outfielder Steve Ruh at times seemed to be the most natural looking player on the diamond. Ruh combined great baseball instincts and good speed, finishing the season with a .317 average and 8 stolen bases.

Although not as dominant as the hitters, Maroon hurlers were just as integral to the U of C's success. Anchoring the starting staff were third-year Andrew Hacker and fourth-year and captain George Schade. All season long Hacker featured a good sweeping curve and had a penchant for getting out of tough jams. He finished the season with a team best record of 6-2 and a respectable 5.68 ERA.

After an outstanding start to the season, Schade struggled to regain his earlier form down the stretch. The harsh weather at times seemed to bother Schade, but he was still able to keep his team in several close games. He finished with a 3-3 record and 5.36 ERA. Second-year Matt Altomare emerged this season as a possible future ace. In five starts, he earned four victories and struck out 28.

Whenever Maroon starters faltered, it seemed that the Chicago bullpen was up to the task. Closer Nick Kocinski was rock solid in end game situations. He finished with four saves and a 2.70 ERA. Two young players shouldered most of the burden in late-inning relief situations. First-year Dan Yeksigian was outstanding, recording two wins and a team low 1.53 ERA. Second-year Dan Harrington worked 28.0 innings as both a starter and in relief. Although at times erratic, walking 22 opponents, Harrington was equally overpowering, striking out 22 while earning a 4-0 record.

With a tremendous class of third-years and a good crop of younger contributors, the Maroons will head into the 2004 campaign with a great deal of confidence. Hopefully a schedule of tougher opponents will allow the Maroons' their first ever Division III postseason appearance. For now, the team should be able to find solace in the fact that they played a high level of ball all season long, even though they will not be able to contend this year for a national championship.