Edgewood won their first-ever conference title by living on the run. It took a doubleheader against the Maroons to teach them that speed can also kill.
Chicago (16-16) held the home team Eagles (24-15) to one stolen base in three attempts and swept the doubleheader 5-1, 6-3 Saturday. Fourth-year starter Matt Altomare (4-3, 5.81) earned the win in the opener, giving up one run in six-and-a-third innings, and third-year starter Dan Yeksigian (7-3, 3.66) won his sixth straight decision in the second, giving up three runs in five-and-two-thirds. Fourth-year shortstop/reliever Steve Ruh (0-1, 2.25) closed out both games, giving up no runs on just two walks over two innings and earning his first save of the season in the second game.
All three pitchers owed some of their success to the solid work done behind the plate by third-year catcher Chris Kocinski and fourth-year third baseman/catcher T.J. Rajcevich. Rajcevich nailed Edgewood first-year second baseman Karl Reynolds on the run to strand the tying run at third in the fourth inning of the nightcap, and the pair have now combined to throw out 21 of 62 attempted base stealers on the season. Their efforts came in handy against the Eagles, who had stolen 74 bases in 100 attempts over their first 37 games.
"Edgewood has run on everybody. When they attempted to run on us early in the game, we shot them down," head coach Brian Baldea said. "Combined with our early lead, that shut their entire running game down."
"Chris and T.J. have done a great job all year long behind the plate," fourth-year first baseman Justin Garrett said. "Throwing a guy out on the bases is huge momentum-wise, and they both have the knack for ending a big inning with their arms."
Kocinski set the tone early in the first, throwing out first-year center fielder Ricky Martinez after the Eagle reached on an error by second-year second baseman Tony Zitek in the third. Edgewood could ill afford to lose the base runner against Altomare, who allowed one run on two hits, a walk, and a wild pitch in the first and then slammed the door closed, allowing only two hits and a hit by pitch over the next five frames.
The right-hander ran into trouble in the seventh, allowing two of the first three to reach and going to a 2-0 count on Edgewood fourth-year third baseman Jeff Dorschner before giving way to Ruh. The starting shortstop lost Dorschner, but then snagged a quick grounder back to him and started a 1-2-3 double play to end the game.
"On the mound, you simply react, while at short you have some time to think about the play, which is always bad as a defender. Thinking leads to errors," said Ruh, whose 25 miscues pace the squad, though he has made up for it with a team-leading 36 RBI.
With the Maroons getting on the board with an RBI single from fourth-year left fielder Mike Costello in the first, nabbing three in the third on three hits, two errors, and a balk, and another RBI single from Ruh in the fourth, Chicago (10 hits, 8 left on base) had sufficient offense to nail the win.
"It was Steve's time to throw again, and given that we had three days until our next game, we had hesitancy about putting him back out there as a shortstop," Baldea said. "He's an important position player, but he pitched very well."
Ruh would come through again in the second game, moving from the infield to the mound with one down and runners at the corners in the sixth. He walked the first batter he faced, and lost the man on third on a wild pitch, but then induced a fly out to center to end the threat. He walked the first man he faced in the seventh, but then retired three in a row for the save. Ruh again made a great play, fielding a drag bunt in front of the third baseman and firing a strike to first while falling to end the game.
"I relied on my fastball," Ruh said. "Occasionally, I would mix in something off-speed to keep them guessing, but mostly I just tried to locate."
Yeksigian earned yet another win with a workman-like performance, allowing three runs on nine hits and three walks and striking out three.
Rajcevich, third-year designated hitter Ryan Denton, and Ruh all knocked in runs in the third to give the Maroons the early lead. Rajcevich scored an unearned run in the fifth, and Costello banged one over the wall in right center for his second homer of the year and Garrett hit an RBI grounder to third, scoring fourth-year center fielder Frank Brown in the sixth to round out the scoring.
The Maroons had been taken apart in their last two outings, dropping both ends of a doubleheader to Elmhurst 12-5, 23-5. The sweep interrupted an eight-game winning streak for Chicago.
"These wins are extremely encouraging," Baldea said. "There's always a danger after a poor day like that of allowing it to affect you the rest of the way out, but our pitching and defense set the stage and allowed us to bounce back."
"After what happened against Elmhurst, it felt good to come out and get two wins. We played well all day in every facet of the game," Garrett said.
The team faces North Central in their final road contest of the season Wednesday. Fourth-year righty Dan Harrington (2-4, 7.43) will get the start.