May 12, 2009

Chicago picks up 20th win in last weekend of season

The plot didn’t go exactly as most baseball players predicted, but after closing the season by winning 14 of 19 games—including two of four in this weekend’s doubleheaders at IIT and North Central—the conclusion is almost the same.

After coming into the year with high expectations, the squad started out 6–9, a rough stretch of games magnified by the brevity of the baseball season. Before it was too late, though, the Maroons turned it around, winning 11 of their next 12 games.

“There was definitely more urgency on the part of the hitters. In early April, our bats were pretty cold and we couldn’t get much going offensively,” said fourth-year first baseman Scott Hofer. “After pulling off big wins against Rose-Hulman and North Central, we gained a lot of confidence and I think that carried us through the rest of the season.”

The run came to an end this weekend, as Chicago(20–13–1) split Saturday’s doubleheader against IIT, winning the first game 5–1 and losing the next 5–0, and then closing the season with a 9–5 win and a 9–5 loss to North Central on Sunday.

In a season where coming from behind was the norm, the Maroons were glad to jump out to a 5–0 lead in the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader.

The Maroons broke a scoreless tie with three runs in the fifth inning and followed up with two more in the sixth to safely distance themselves from IIT. Second-year second baseman Nick Fazzari, who was named UAA Player of the Week, drove in second-year right fielder Marshall Oium with a single to break the tie before second-year left fielder Zach Osman knocked in two more on a fielder’s choice to put Chicago up 3–0.

After putting runners on second and third in the sixth, IIT miscues brought both runners home to make it 5–0. First-year designated hitter Trace Capps scored on a balk before third-year shortstop Rob Serpico crossed the plate on a passed ball for Chicago’s final run of the contest.

En route to UAA Player of the Week honors, first-year pitcher Preston Atteberry gave up just six hits on the afternoon and picked up his first complete game off the mound. A wild pitch in the seventh put two Red Hawks in scoring position in the final frame, eventually allowing IIT to get on the board on a sacrifice grounder, but Atteberry was able to seal the win.

Chicago had its first shot at win number 20 in Saturday’s second game, but IIT denied them the chance with a five-run sixth inning that put the Maroons away.

After scoring five runs in the first game, Chicago managed just three in the second and had only one baserunner in scoring position throughout the contest.

IIT, meanwhile, tallied just four hits off of Oium on the afternoon, but defensive mistakes cost the South Siders down the stretch. After bringing a 0–0 tie into the bottom of the sixth, the Maroons committed three errors in the frame, allowing five runs to score on just one hit. The ball left the infield only twice in the inning—both were fly outs—but the errors combined with a wild pitch and three walks to give IIT the deciding margin.

“This weekend was interesting because on Saturday neither team could really string any hits together,” Hofer said. “The field at IIT was really thick, and it was almost impossible for a ground ball to get through the infield. It all came down to which team played defense better in the final innings.”

The South Siders had another shot at their 20th win of the season on Sunday against North Central, and this time, they capitalized. The Maroons headed into North Central this season already sporting two wins over the Cardinals, with a 13–10 win on April 17 and an 8–4 victory on May 5.

Chicago had given North Central early leads in both prior contests, but the team jumped ahead on a three-run second inning this time around. Capps homered to left to start off the inning—his third long-ball of the season—and the next three batters reached safely. First-year third baseman Stephen Williams doubled and Serpico walked before fourth-year left fielder Travis Blane singled home Williams. Osman then capped the inning’s scoring with a fielder’s choice that allowed Serpico to score from third.

Chicago extended its lead when Hofer homered with two outs in the third, but North Central put two runs back on the board in the bottom of the frame after a walk and a pair of hits gave third-year pitcher Joe Pankow his first multi-run inning in three starts.

“I thought they just didn’t swing at the good pitches that I made. They were very disciplined hitters…just waiting for our fast balls,” Pankow said. “We played pretty good defense and made the key plays when we had to.”

The Maroons, however, scored in the fourth and fifth, with Osman and Capps picking up the RBIs to extend the lead to 6–2. North Central scored a run in each of the final three innings, but three more Chicago runs in the seventh secured the South Siders their 20th win.

After hitting the 20-win mark, though, North Central spoiled the season finale with five runs in the second inning of Sunday’s second game. The Cardinals tallied 15 hits in the game, and seven of those came in frame two. The hosts also scored once in the first and three more times in the fourth, racking up the highest run total by a Chicago opponent in six games.

During the game, the Maroons were able to plate five runs but never put together the extended rally they needed to take the win. Capps drove in Fazzari with a single in the first to give Chicago a brief lead, but the team didn’t score again until the fifth, and by then the scoreboard showed the Maroons behind 9–1.

Fourth-year catcher Tom Gonzalez scored on an error in the fifth and drove in another run on a fielder’s choice the next inning. Chicago then put together a two-out rally in the final frame, with Serpico double driving in a pair of runs, but after that North Central shut the door, and the Cardinals walked out the 9–5 victory.

With the book closed on the 2009 season, prospects for 2010 look strong already. The most important components of Chicago’s pitching staff—in particular, Pankow and second-year Dan McConologue—are back next year, along with a core of young and talented hitters like Capps and Williams.

“As a senior, I’m sad that the season is over but definitely happy about how we played and how close we became as a team. We had a great team chemistry this year, and I think a lot of it had to do with the freshmen,” Hofer said. “I’m interested to see how the team will do over the next couple of years because the underclassmen are a talented bunch.”