April 14, 2006

Baseball busts out bats in home rats

They say that a hitting slump is like the common cold: It will last two weeks no matter what a batter does. Against Wheaton, the Maroons showed signs of recovery way ahead of schedule.

Returning to J. Kyle for a Tuesday night showdown, Chicago (7-–13) hammered Wheaton (9–12) 17–4. After a weekend characterized by agonizing struggles at the plate, the team demonstrated a renewed energy in pounding the Thunder with 17 hits. Tearing through four Wheaton pitchers, the Maroons posted crooked numbers in the second, fifth, sixth, and seventh as five men on the home team recorded multi-hit games. Third-year lefty Robert Wilson (1–0, 2.63) came out of the bullpen to earn his first career victory while first-year right-handed starter Josh Weaver (2–3, 6.65) took the loss. Weaver gave up four runs, two earned, on five hits in three innings of work.

After using Monday to wash out the bad taste in their mouths left over from their 1–3 road trip, the squad came out to the ballpark ready to nail down a win.

“I think just getting the day off is what we needed,” second-year left fielder Mike Serio said.

Early on it looked like the Maroons were due for another frustrating outing. With two outs in the first, starting pitcher first-year right-hander Kyle Schmitt walked first-year center fielder David West and then gave up a homer to third-year first baseman and cleanup hitter Matt Price. That long ball accounted for two of the three runs allowed by Schmitt on five hits and three walks over 3.1 innings.

Refusing to stay down in the hole for long, Chicago teed off on Weaver for four runs on four hits in the second. Fourth-years third baseman Matt Assad and designated hitter Ryan Denton showed some quick thinking on the base paths, moving into scoring position on a wild pitch after reaching on back-to-back singles. A mere 90 feet from the plate, Assad dashed home on a grounder to second from second-year center fielder/lefty starter Nate Ginsberg. After reaching third on the play, Denton scored two batters later on a throwing error by third-year catcher Britt Harris. With two outs, leadoff man Serio kept the inning alive, ripping a RBI single to second. Third-year second baseman Tony Zitek followed by roping a double to left center to plate Serio for the final run of the inning, putting the Maroons up 4–2.

“People were feeling comfortable in the box,” Assad said. “There have been a lot of times over the year when we have shut down after a good inning and let the other team back in the game. We knew that we had to keep the pressure on them.”

Assad and company went on to score six runs in the fifth, four in the sixth, and three more in the seventh. Chicago could have done even more damage, as umpires called the game two innings early because of darkness.

Making the most of the daylight to take care of business at the plate for Chicago, Ginsberg went four-for-five with two triples on the afternoon. He put the big hurt on the Thunder, driving in five runs and scoring twice. Ginsberg, who took his cuts from the seventh spot in the lineup against Wheaton, is now second on the squad in batting average at .340 and third in RBI with nine.

“He got a couple of lucky hits and just rolled with it,” Serio said. “He’s been hitting the ball pretty well all year, and it was just his game. It was one of the things we needed to get going.”

Serio put in some good swings at the plate himself. Contributing three RBI to the onslaught, he matched Denton (three-for-four) for the second most on the day.

While the Maroons were just getting warmed up after the second, the Thunder only managed to scrape together six more hits and two runs over the last five innings. Solid outings on the mound from Schmitt, Wilson, and first-year right-handed pitcher Alex Gallan stranded 11 men to prevent any serious Wheaton rally. A double in the fourth off the bat of third-year left fielder Neil Sternberg scored second-year third baseman Dan Falvey, who came around again in the sixth on a single from fourth-year shortstop Quinn Wulbecker to round out the visitors’ scoring.

Last year, on April 19, Chicago routed Wheaton 11–6 to trigger an eight-game winning streak. After Tuesday’s 17–4 thrashing, the Maroons hope to see a little history repeating itself. They’re well positioned for it with the bulk of their remaining games scheduled at home, where they have a 3–4 record as opposed to a 4–16 mark away from J. Kyle.

“Being at home is a lot more fun,” Serio said. “The fans who come out to support us really give us a big boost.”

The team will roll on despite the likely absence of first-year outfielder Travis Blane from the lineup due to a strained hamstring. They travel for a doubleheader against Robert Morris (14–10) today. The Maroons return to J. Kyle Tuesday to take the field against North Park (9–14).