April 21, 2006

Deja vu all over again as baseball rides hit parade

With history on its side, baseball is firing on all cylinders as it speeds towards .500.

In their first errorless contest since mid-March, the Maroons (10–13) crushed North Park (10–18) 13–3 at J. Kyle Tuesday afternoon. Second-year southpaw Nate Ginsberg (2–2, 5.57) went the distance, scattering only three earned runs on six hits, and was supported by a four-for-five, two RBI day from third-year veteran shortstop Allen Cooper. Chicago has now won four straight since a doubleheader sweep at the hands of Aurora dropped its record to 6–13.

After reaching a similar low point last season, Chicago defeated Wheaton to begin an unstoppable eight-game win streak and to finish their year just above .500 at 18–17. Things got started off even better against Wheaton this season, as the Maroons let the Thunder have it 17–4 April 11. With three victories under their belt since then, the energized squad is halfway to matching last year’s improbable run.

“It’s in someway a mirror image of last year’s turnaround, as it’s the same time and opponents,” head coach Brian Baldea said. “But I do know that the team’s attitude right now is extremely positive and extremely optimistic.”

The confidence was evident at the plate on Tuesday as the Maroons teed off on Vikings third-year right hander Kevin Polka (0–3). Eight of the nine batters in Chicago’s starting lineup collected at least one hit, with seven of them driving home one or more runs in the process. First-year left fielder Kyle Schmitt (.280, 5 RBI) went three-for-five with two ribbies, while third-year second-baseman Tony Zitek (three-for-three, .355) had a perfect day, bringing in a run with an RBI single to left and scoring twice. Polka lasted only five innings, allowing 5 runs on 10 hits against the Maroons.

“It seems like all our hitters have all come around,” Baldea said. “It’s not a technique thing. It’s more of an attitude and confidence that all of a sudden we’ve gained in each other”

While the box score may indicate otherwise, Ginsberg’s effort on the mound was far from stellar. The everyday center fielder walked five and hit two batters in the first three frames. His control seemed to doom him in the third, two walks and a stolen base put runners on the corners with only one out and one of North Parkí’s best hitters, second-year Brady Josephson (.357, 22 RBI), coming up. Demonstrating the Maroons’ improved glove work, Cooper and Zitek bailed the lefty out by combing to turn a lightning-fast double play on a hard-hit grounder to short to end the inning.

“Since [the ITT and Aurora doubleheaders], we’ve had some defensive plays during critical innings that have stopped the possibility of a big inning. They could have turned out to be five-10-run innings had we not made the right plays,” Baldea said.

After getting out of the third unharmed, Ginsberg settled down to blank North Park for the next three innings. After he allowed two inconsequential runs in the top of the seventh, Ginsberg’s teammates sealed the deal in the bottom half, as Schmitt singled up the middle to bring home fourth-year designated hitter Ryan Denton for the Maroons’ 13th run, thus bringing the 10-run mercy rule into effect and ending the game.

“Earlier in the season, I think we struggled because the nine guys on the field were giving their nine best individual efforts, but we couldn’t build momentum over the course of a game because the team dynamic hadn’t fallen into place yet,” Ginsberg said.

Chicago looks to continue to mirror last season’s streak as it takes its rejuvenated fielding and offensive production into the most difficult games of the year. The true test of the Maroons’ abilities will come this afternoon when they match up against eighth-ranked Carthage (20–6). Fourth-year righty Dan Yeksigian (5–1, 3.89) is expected to get the ball as Chicago hopes to once again upset the national powerhouse. The Maroons dealt Carthage an 8–6 defeat last year. After the highly anticipated match-up in Kenosha, the Maroons return home to host a doubleheader against Elmhurst (9–16–1) Sunday.