April 29, 2005

Maroons upset top-10 Carthage for sixth straight win

After a strong outing against North Park, where baseball swept its second consecutive doubleheader and extended its winning streak to a season-high five games, the Maroons knew that near perfection would be needed Wednesday afternoon. Eighth-ranked Carthage brought its 3.51 ERA and 24-8 record to J. Kyle Anderson Field, where Chicago has dropped seven of eight games this year. Despite any past results, however, the Redmen failed to keep pace with a steady Maroons offense, which never lagged behind in a shocking 8-6 upset.

"We approached this game as a challenge, but knew that if we played well we could win. The seniors have never beaten Carthage, and we wanted to change that," third-year second baseman Matt Assad said.

In a game that was planned to be pitched-by-committee, second-year righty Dan Cozzi took the mound first for the Maroons and did a good job shutting down the Redmen's hitters early. Working behind in the count for most of his four-and-a-third innings, Cozzi battled to give up only three hits, two walks, and two runs, striking out three.

"Dan Cozzi gave us the momentum that we were able to carry through the rest of the game," third-year righty Dan Yeksigian said. "He gave us four scoreless innings and really dominated Carthage, which set the tone for the rest of the game."

Chicago hitters, the team's biggest weakness at one point this season, provided support from the get-go. Fourth-year third baseman T.J. Rajcevich slammed a leadoff double to left-center, and even though the team was unable to bring him home in the first, he set the pace for an impressive offensive day.

Fourth-year center fielder Frank Brown jump-started a two-run second inning, stroking an RBI double to the right-center fence to score third-year catcher Chris Kocinski. Brown, who the day before combined for four hits, three runs, and an RBI over two games at North Park, was plated on second-year second baseman Tony Zitek's groundball to short.

The Maroons added to their 2-0 lead in the fourth when third-year designated hitter Ryan Denton, who had stolen the show at North Park by reaching base seven of eight plate appearances, hit an RBI single to the left side off of Carthage starter Zach Smigiel to put the Maroons up three.

Carthage finally got something going in the fifth inning, knocking Cozzi out of the game with a walk and a single from the inning's first three batters. The Redmen hit fourth-year righty Dan Harrington well, including left fielder Mike Huven's two-out, two-run single through the right side to draw the game to 3-2.

The Maroons immediately responded with the bats, as they have in recent weeks, scoring runs on an error by the Carthage right fielder and then on fourth-year first baseman Justin Garrett's double.

Down 5-2, the Redmen earned a couple more runs off of Harrington before Yeksigian was brought in with the bases loaded and escaped the inning after two more runs crossed the plate to put Chicago down 6-5. Yeksigian did pitch well, though, inducing two groundballs, the first of which looked like an inning-ending double play before being bobbled by Zitek to allow a run. After a grounder through the middle gave Carthage the one-run lead, Yeksigian struck out the five hitter, and first-year right fielder Mike Serio ended the inning with a full-extension diving catch of a foul ball near the bullpen.

"The defense has been great behind me, stopping the big inning when I really need it," Yeksigian said. "The offense has really picked up lately, giving me a cushion to work with."

A combination of timely hitting and wild Carthage pitching put the Maroons back in the driver's seat, as the Maroons stepped up again. Fourth-year shortstop Steve Ruh hit a one-out double down the third-base line and was subsequently walked home. Garrett's sacrifice fly to center gave Chicago a 7-6 lead and put the team up for good.

Yeksigian was in control the rest of the way, striking out five and allowing four hits and three walks over three-and-two-thirds innings for his third straight victory. The team did receive a scare in the late innings, though. Carthage put men on first and third in the seventh, but Kocinski threw out Johnny Meier (11 for 12 in stolen base attempts entering the game) at second to end the threat. In the ninth, Yeksigian intentionally walked Meier to load the bases with two outs, and came through with a game-ending strikeout of shortstop Jas Gipson to seal the victory.

Though the win was by far the team's biggest this year, the Maroons had built up to it with recent offensive-defensive consistency.

"I don't think that anyone on the team is surprised by how we've played the last couple of weeks," Assad said. "The difference between now and the beginning of the season is that we are finally putting together complete games."

"The team came into the game with Carthage with a nothing-to-lose attitude," second-year John Thomas said. "We have been playing very well of late and thought we had a great chance to win if we played like we are capable of playing."

In Tuesday's action, the team swept an easy pair from North Park at home (1-32). In the opener, fourth-year starter Matt Altomare (2-3) broke a five-week winless streak in dominating fashion, allowing just two balls out of the infield over seven shutout innings in Chicago's 12-0 blowout win. North Park hitters managed just two hits and a walk against seven strikeouts against the Maroon righty. Their pitchers could only dream of similar success, as fourth-year left fielder Matt Costello torched them for four hits in four at-bats, with four RBI and one run scored on his first home run of the season. Denton was no easy out, either, going three-for-three with two RBI and three runs scored as Chicago had 15 hits for the game.

The visitors did a little more damage in the second game, as second-year spot starter Brian Olson (1-2) didn't reach Altomare's level of performance. However, Olson still turned in a solid effort, giving up three runs, two earned on five hits and four walks over six-and-a-third innings. His teammates gave him more than enough offensive support to walk away with the 11-3 victory, adding ten more hits on the afternoon. Denton added two more hits, two more runs, and a RBI in three at bats. Brown and Ruh also had solid days, with the center fielder going three-for-four with three runs scored and the shortstop adding two RBI to his team-leading total of 31.

Chicago next heads to Benedictine for a Saturday doubleheader, the first of seven straight road games.