April 18, 2008

Baseball toughs out sloppy win

The weather was almost perfect, but the game was far from it. Even so, baseball showed it could tough out a W when things on the diamond don’t go according to plan.

Playing at home against North Central (6–14), the Maroons (6–6) were plagued by errors and fell behind early, but Chicago managed to shore up its defense and find just enough offense to win 4–3 on Wednesday afternoon.

The game was never in the bag, though, and a barrage of miscues in the first few innings might have cost the Maroons the victory. In the top of the second, fourth-year third baseman Mike Serio bobbled an infield shot, and fourth-year catcher Zach Ernst reached first on the error. Second-year pitcher Joe Pankow tried to pick the runner off at first but overthrew the bag, allowing Ernst to take second while the Maroons retrieved the ball.

Having already gifted Ernst two bases, it seemed unlikely that the Maroons would slip up again, but their gloves let them down once more. Second-year Ryan Kosack got on base after another error from Serio and then rounded to third as several cutoff throws missed their marks. Meanwhile, Ernst ran home for an unearned run. The Cardinals’ next batter grounded out, and the Maroons could heave sighs of relief after committing three errors and allowing just one run.

With its offense kept under wraps through the first two innings, Chicago needed its fielders to hold up in the third, but the team had no such luck. First-year left fielder Steve Hlavac walloped one to center field and made it to second base, giving the Cardinals a man in scoring position. The next batter up, second-year third baseman Nick Robinson, hit to second-year shortstop Rob Serpico. Serpico didn’t make the throw to first, and his error gave Hlavac time to trundle home.

Trailing 2–0 after Hlavac’s run, the Maroons retired the rest of the Cardinals’ side without any more trouble. In the bottom of the inning, when Serio and first-year center fielder Kevin Holzbog got to second and third with only one out, Chicago appeared primed to score. But the next two batters grounded out and flew out, and the South Siders left their runners stranded and a goose egg on the scoreboard.

“That’s a sign that we’ve seen on occasion this year,” Baldea said. “We’ll sometimes have the ability to get a base hit or a couple base hits, and then when we have the opportunity to put those runs across, we won’t succeed. We’ll have two or three hitters go down and not get a run.”

But when Chicago finally got a break from its offensive struggles, what a break it was.

Following a quiet top of the fifth for North Central, Holzbog came to the plate for the Maroons and singled to left field, a good start for what proved to be the decisive inning. Serio, third-year catcher Scott Hofer, and fourth-year designated hitter Dominik Meyer—the next three Chicago batters—all singled, sending home Holzbog and Serio to tie up the game.

At the plate after Meyer, third-year first baseman Kyle Schmitt scored Hofer with a sac-fly, giving the Maroons the go-ahead run. Two batters later, fourth-year right fielder Nathan Ginsberg put Chicago up 4–2 when he drove home Meyer with a single to left.

Four runs proved to be all the Maroons needed to eke out a win. Pankow’s impressive day kept up down the stretch, and thanks to his pitching, the Cardinals never seriously threatened to get back into the game until the final inning.

In the top of the ninth, second-year first baseman Ryan Kosack got on base with a single and then returned to the dugout as first-year pinch runner Eric Vogrin took his spot. A bunt and a passed ball advanced Vogrin to third, and second-year center fielder Justin Moriarty brought him home with a single.

With Moriarty on first as the tying run and two outs on the board, Hlavac stepped up to the plate in a do-or-die situation. The left fielder was 2–4 at bat, but Pankow finished what he started, forcing Hlavac into an easy pop fly in the outfield and securing the victory.

Pankow (2–1) gave a dominating performance as he worked the full nine innings, allowing seven hits, striking out two, and not surrendering a single earned run or base on balls. Outside of Pankow, though, the Maroons had trouble in the field. The errors that dogged the team earlier were not an issue late in the game, but the team still seemed uneasy.

“The bottom line was we just had a pitcher who got us out of trouble time after time after time,” Baldea said. “We were able to put one inning on the board with some runs, and he made it stand up.”

The first opportunity for the Maroons to improve their play comes today in Schaumburg, IL, where the team will take on Dominican (8–15). The Maroons will need to do a better job backing up their aces if they want to stop the Stars.

“Almost to a man, we’re not playing as well as we should. We’re not hitting as well as we should certainly, and we have some holes on the field [where]we’re not playing defense very well,” Baldea said. “The pitching has been really strong almost every game, and we could be very good if we start supporting our pitchers better.”