April 12, 2005

Hits, but miss as baseball drops two of three

It took a total turnaround at the plate to finally stem the bleeding for the Maroons.

Baseball (5-12) sandwiched a 16-9 win over Concordia in the middle of three weekend games. Following a tight 6-5 loss to Illinois Tech (15-12) that extended the Maroons' losing streak to eight, Chicago bounced back in the first game of a doubleheader against Concordia (8-12) before dropping a 10-8.

Fourth-year third baseman/catcher T.J. Rajcevich hit two three-run homeruns in Saturday's doubleheader. Third-year spot starter/reliever Brian Olson (1-2) grabbed his first win of the season despite giving up three runs in an inning and two-thirds of relief.

The team hadn't won a game since pounding Western Connecticut State 13-2 in Port Charlotte March 24. However, more important to the team was Saturday's offensive explosion, considering Chicago had averaged almost eight men left on base and fewer than three runs per game over the eight-game losing streak.

"We saw evidence that our hitters are remembering what they need to do and how they need to approach things at the plate," said head coach Brian Baldea. "They stayed back, read pitches nicely, and got some good swings in. We got a lot of two-out hits, which was encouraging." The Maroons racked up eight total in the twin-bill.

In the opening game of the doubleheader, the Maroons knocked around the Cougar pitchers for a season-high 16 runs—8 earned—off 19 hits and 2 walks. Rajcevich led the way, driving one out of the park with two on in the second for the team's first home run of the season. Rajcevich went three-for-four with three RBI, three runs, and a stolen base on the game.

"He's been swinging the bat pretty well all season, and pulled a couple of pitches well in that game," Baldea said. "T.J. has been hitting for us, and we certainly expected him to get on base and make things happen on the base paths, but the home runs and RBI were a nice surprise for us," said fourth-year first baseman Justin Garrett. "We know he can drive the ball, but it isn't often that you get to watch a guy do what he did on Saturday."

Third-year designated hitter Ryan Denton also helped pace the offense, going two-for-five with a run scored and two RBI in a seven-run bonanza in the sixth. First-year outfielder Mike Serio contributed four hits, four RBI, and three runs of his own, and fourth-year shortstop/reliever Steve Ruh chipped in three hits, two RBI, and a stolen base.

"I think we all knew the hits were coming. It was just a matter of time," Garrett said. "We are a talented offensive team, and we got a lot of timely hits in that game."

While hitting picked up the team, defense and pitching were not up to par for Chicago. The Maroons made four errors on the day, and Olson and second-year reliever Dan Cozzi gave up three runs apiece in the final frames. Runs against in the final innings have been a problem of late for the team. In the last six games, Maroons pitchers have allowed 25 runs in the final two innings.

"The pitchers who have been coming into games late have not done well. They've hurt themselves with walks, especially leading off the inning and coming right out of the bullpen," Baldea said. "They have to throw strikes."

"We have had trouble this season stopping the big inning. It's a result of giving the other team too many free bases on walks and errors," said fourth-year starter Dan Harrington, who gave up seven hits and three runs in a solid start. "If we play sound defense and our pitchers throw more strikes, we should be able to stop the big inning."

In the second game, more shaky work in the bullpen made the difference. The Cougars scored six runs on four hits, three walks, a wild pitch, and a throwing error by Ruh in the bottom of the sixth to overcome an 8-4 Maroon lead.

Ruh (0-1) took the loss for the Maroons, giving up the final two runs in a third of an inning pitched. First-year reliever Dominik Meyer was charged with three runs in the inning, and fourth-year starter Matt Altomare was responsible for one unearned run.

"The collapse in the second game overshadows the win," Harrington said. "It left us with a bad taste in our mouths. Our pitching staff has the physical talent to hang with any Div. III school in the area, but right now it's more of a confidence problem."

Concordia's comeback overshadowed another strong performance at the plate for Chicago, led by Rajcevich's second three-run homer on the day in the third inning, three hits and two runs scored by Denton, and a two-for-two effort by fourth-year leftfielder Mike Costello, who also recorded an RBI and two walks.

It wasn't quite the same story on Friday, as Chicago played a back-and-forth game with Illinois Tech, responding to Scarlet Hawk success with runs of their own in four of the five innings in which the visitors scored.

Try as they might, the Maroons couldn't grab a lead of their own, as Rajcevich struck out with the bases loaded and two outs in the seventh to end their last scoring threat. The team left 13 runners on base. Two unearned runs charged to third-year starter Dan Yeksigian (1-3) provided the winning margin for Illinois Tech.

The team returns to J. Kyle Anderson Field today for the start of a four-game homestand with an 3 p.m. match-up against North Park.