May 12, 2006

Cardinal sins sink baseball; Winning season on line after road loss

After pulling out wins in game after game in recent weeks, a break-even season looked like a fait accompli for baseball. Instead, it’s going down to the wire for the second year in a row.

Everything will culminate against Rose-Hulman (25–15) yet again after the Maroons (17–17) fell back to .500 with a 6–1 loss at North Central (13–26) Wednesday. Third-year right-handed starter Dan Cozzi got tagged with the loss (4–3, 4.53) while second-year righty reliever Matt Krok (4–7) grabbed the win for the home team.

“We expected to produce a lot more runs like we did the last time against them,” said second-year left fielder Mike Serio, remembering the 10–6 win March 31.

After exploding for 22 runs on 26 hits in four games over the past homestand, Chicago’s offense couldn’t find the spark against the Cardinals. Despite knocking seven hits on the day against seven North Central hurlers, the Maroons failed to bring their runners all the way around. The squad stranded eight men on the bases and scratched together just one unearned run. They flashed some speed early on, with two stolen bases in three attempts over the first four frames, but were unable to take advantage.

The South Siders finally caught a break in the eighth, capitalizing on a North Central error to push across their only tally of the day. With third-year second baseman Tony Zitek aboard with a leadoff single, second-year Jordan Onulak went in to pinch run. A wild pitch by second-year righty Justin Rezzuto against first-year first baseman Scott Hofer advanced Onulak into scoring position at second. It looked like Chicago would head back to the dugout with another scoreless inning after Rezzuto retired Hofer on a fly ball to center and fanned first-year right fielder Travis Blane. A slow grounder between the mound and the third baseline off the bat of third-year third baseman John Thomas turned into a run when Rezzuto came charging off the hill and rushed his throw to first, allowing Onulak to come around and break the Cardinals shutout.

Unfortunately, there would be nothing like the late rally that brought Chicago back from the dead against Benedictine Saturday. Rezzuto regained composure on the mound to strike out fourth-year designated hitter Ryan Denton, ending the threat. The Maroons went three up, three down against fourth-year righty Mark Satkowski in the ninth.

“When the other team starts making errors, it seems like the time to get something going,” third-year southpaw Rob Wilson said. “I think most people believe that we could come back because you always think, ‘We’ve done it once, so let’s do it again.’ You can’t always make the five- or six-run comeback, though.”

Although the Maroons committed nine errors of their own over the weekend, fielding mistakes didn’t play into Wednesday’s loss. North Central earned all six of its runs, driving in one in the third, a loner in the fourth, three in the fifth, and an extra one in the sixth. Cozzi lasted four innings, allowing two runs on eight hits while sending eight Cardinals down on strikes.

“We want to keep our pitching staff fresh for this weekend,” Serio said. “I think that’s the reason Coach decided to pull Dan.”

With the South Siders down 2–0 but still in the game, the home team took their ups in the bottom of the fifth and put the showdown out of reach. Wilson came in from the bullpen to start the inning and immediately loaded the bases with a walk, a hit batter, and another free pass.

Unwilling to let Wilson work his way out of the jam, head coach Brain Baldea called in first-year right-hander Alex Gallan. Third-year Matt Shulba came off the bench and demonstrated that experience can overwhelm youth against the rookie with a two-run double to left. First-year second baseman Joseph Heller followed with a sacrifice fly to center to increase North Central’s lead to an insurmountable 5–0.

Last spring, the Maroons entered the season-ending doubleheader against the Engineers one game below .500. A comeback from six runs down in the front end and the first no-hitter in program history from fourth-year righty ace Dan Yeksigian in the capper gave them the winning season. Chicago will hope to make this weekend’s game a little less dramatic. The South Siders head down to Terre Haute, Indiana, for the twin bill Saturday.

“The only thing anyone is really concerned about at this point is winning the last two games,” Serio said.