May 13, 2005

NC's 11 unanswered runs drop baseball

Some days, it just doesn't pay to pitch in relief.

After looking good in the early going, the Maroons (16-17) blew an 8-0 lead to lose 11-8 to North Central (19-20) in Naperville, Illinois on Wednesday. Four Maroons pitchers participated in the meltdown, with second-year righty Dan Cozzi (2-2, 9.91 ERA) taking the loss. The team wasted a fine day at the plate from third-year designated hitter Ryan Denton, who went three-for-four with an RBI, a run scored, and a walk. Fourth-year center fielder Frank Brown went three-for-three with two walks and two runs scored.

Coming off a convincing doubleheader sweep of Edgewood Saturday, the baseball team set off for Naperville with high hopes of stringing together what was only their second winning streak of more than two games this season. The Maroons had handled North Central earlier this season, winning 7-2 behind a five-hitter from third-year starter Dan Yeksigian. With half the game down, the Maroons seemed primed to repeat the feat.

Fourth-year starter Dan Harrington (2-4, 7.19) retired 12 of the first 14 batters he faced, and the offense was running on cylinders. After getting on the board in the second when Brown came home on a fielder's choice grounder by first-year right fielder Mike Serio, the Maroons broke out the big bats in the third, scoring five on four hits and three walks. The team then added even more insurance on fourth-year first baseman Justin Garrett's first home run of the year, an opposite-field blast to right center, and a two-out, RBI double from third-year designated hitter Ryan Denton.

"Timely hitting along with getting several men on base got us off to a great start," fourth-year pitcher Matt Altomare said.

The Maroons looked as though they were in total control as senior starting pitcher Dan Harrington bulldozed through the early innings. "Dan threw as well as he did all year," Altomare said. However, after four innings of work, fatigue began to set in. With a man on first and two outs, the Cardinals took advantage of some favorable 2-0 and 3-1 counts, and scored four runs on three singles, three walks, and a wild pitch to cut the eight-run lead in half.

Second-year righty Brian Olson (1-2, 7.56) was brought in to relieve Harrington in the bottom of the sixth. He faced three batters in the inning, getting a little help from third-year catcher Chris Kocinski, who threw out the the runner at second, the first of two runners he would throw ou;in the game. Kocinski has cut down 40 percent of would-be base stealers this year.

The score remained at 8-4 until the bottom of the seventh, when the Cardinals exploded again, bringing 12 hitters to the plate against three Chicago pitchers for seven more runs. Olson and Cozzi gave up five hits—including two doubles and a triple—without recording an out before third-year righty Dan Yeksigian was brought in.

In the midst of their comeback, the Cardinals got a little situational help with a runner on third and none out. With the score tied at eight and the infield in to cut down the runner at the plate, Ernst hit a weak flare to right over the infield, driving in what turned out to be the winning run. Yeksigian subsequently induced a pop-out to first base and struck out the next hitter looking before two more hits and a couple errors by fourth-year shortstop Steve Ruh brought the score to 11-8.

Yeksigian cruised from there, getting a groundout to second to close out the seventh. He retired two of three batters in the eighth before Kocinski threw out his second runner.

The Maroons were unable to get anything else going offensively in the last two innings, as the Cardinals pitched five players over the game. Chicago got a runner on base in each of the last two innings but failed to get either past first. North Central ace Dave Hardman (5-2, 3.59) closed out the game for his second save of the year.

Despite the disappointing loss, the Maroons are looking forward to returning home Saturday after a seven-game road trip on which they went 4-3. The pitching has been inconsistent of late, but the lineup continues to hit the ball well, particularly from some senior contributors.

Costello, Brown, and Garrett—who filled the fourth, fifth, and seventh spots in Wednesday's game—each hit a homer while the team was on the road. The three have combined for six longballs total this year. Those three graduating players, along with Kocinski, Altomare, Harrington, Ruh, and fourth-year third baseman/catcher T.J. Rajcevich, will be honored for Senior Day before Saturday's doubleheader against Rose-Hulman.

The seniors have combined for a four-year record of 79-50. A sweep this weekend would give them the third-highest total of wins for a graduating class.

"We expect all our fourth-years to play and go out on a high note. The underclassmen will also bring their best to see the seniors leave with a win," said Altomare, who will start along with Yeksigian.