May 2, 2006

Sloppy play, weather can’t stop baseball at Invite

There’s an old saying in baseball: Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes it rains. For Chicago in the springtime, the third option is more than an occasional outcome.

With steady rain turning J. Kyle into a marsh, the Maroons (12–15) managed to just get in an 11–5 triumph over Case (10–21–1) Saturday before the rest of their games at the Chicago Invitational were called off. The home team struggled on the mound but managed to skirt enough trouble to stay alive until the offense blew the game open with five two-out runs in the eighth. Third-year righty pitcher Dan Cozzi (3–2, 4.63) got the win for Chicago despite surrendering 10 hits and granting three free passes, while second-year center fielder/lefty reliever Nate Ginsberg recorded the team’s first save of the year.

Two scheduled games against 28th-ranked Wash U (33–5) and another against the Spartans were cancelled due to inclement weather and will not be made up. The weekend marked the beginning of what coaches hope will be an annual round-robin between the three Midwestern schools.

“Wash U’s coach [Ric Lessmann] and I have been talking about it for a few years. It’s a good idea. Unfortunately, we can’t control the weather,” head coach Brian Baldea said.

Lack of control would prove to be a theme on the day. Cozzi was digging himself into holes from the get-go, allowing a single to open up the game. He went on to give up two runs in the first inning, and his pattern for the day was set. Cozzi allowed the first man to reach in six of his eight frames. Though he punched out a Chicago season-best 10 Spartans, he was generally wild over seven-plus innings.

“He was having trouble with the leadoff hitter virtually every inning he pitched,” Baldea said. “He always kind of found a way to get out of big trouble, but he seemed to always want to put himself in big trouble by walking the leadoff hitter.”

For the most part, the starter was able to redeem himself with some help from the defense as he got deeper into the inning.

“I was lucky not to get burned by my wildness. I felt happy with the result butam definitely unsatisfied with my control,” Cozzi said.

Despite struggles of its own, the offense did its part to bail out Cozzi. Helped along by five errors in the field, the Maroons put at least one man on in every inning. Chicago plated two in the bottom of the second to even things up and took the lead in the third when fourth-year third baseman Matt Assad (two-for-three, 2 RBI) worked third-year reliever J.R. Doolos (4–4) for a bases-loaded walk. That was all they would get in the inning, and they left the bases loaded again in the fourth.

The seventh would prove similarly frustrating. With two outs and runners on first and second, Case coach Jerry Seimon went to first-year reliever Jonathon Fagert to stop the bleeding. Third-year second baseman Tony Zitek made him pay, singling to load them up and Hofer was issued a free pass to bring home third-year pinch runner/third baseman John Thomas. Ginsberg then singled in a run, but the inning ended with another three men on base. Maroons left 15 runners on base over the course of the game, against 12 for Case.

The Maroons finally broke through in the bottom of the eighth. With two down, first-year catcher Tommy Gonzalez beat out a grounder to short. An RBI single from second-year left fielder Mike Serio and a walk to Zitek loaded the bases, and Hofer (.476, 19 RBI on the year) slammed a backbreaking double to right center to clear the bases.

“Once [Hofer] came to the plate, I knew we were going to score a few. He’s been on fire all season long,” Ginsberg said.

The rookie phenom went four-for-five at the plate with four RBI and rubbed some more salt in the wound when he scored on a wild pitch for Chicago’s fifth unearned run of the inning and seventh of the game.

Even with a six-run lead in hand, the ninth inning proved tense for the South Siders. Ginsberg allowed the first three Spartans he faced to reach before settling in for a pair of strikeouts and a pop-up to end it.

After a brutal trio of games April 21–23 that saw the Maroons record an ERA of 15.55 and strand 20 runners, the squad is hoping that the weekend washout helped them recapture the form that allowed them to win four straight from April 11–18.

“I think we are on the right track,” Ginsberg said. “We definitely started to iron out some of our defensive troubles from last weekend, but we need to try to put games away earlier.”

Their homeland defense continues tomorrow when the Milwaukee School of Engineering (13–9) comes in for a doubleheader. Fourth-year ace Dan Yeksigian (6–2, 4.66) and Ginsberg (2–3, 5.08) will start for Chicago.