[img id="80592" align="alignleft"] With chances for a .500 season long gone, baseball’s top priority of late has been finding a way to supplement solid hitting with crisper fieldwork and more consistent pitching. After going 1–3 over the weekend across a pair of rough doubleheaders, the Maroons sorely needed a decisive victory to get their heads back in the game.
Hitting early and often, Chicago (10–17) topped North Central (14–23) for the second time this season, riding a 12-hit performance to end the Cardinals’ 2008 campaign with an 8–6 victory Tuesday in Naperville. Third-year catcher and UAA Athlete of the Week Scott Hofer carried a particularly hot bat throughout the matchup, collecting three RBI on as many hits, while fourth-year center fielder Mike Morgan contributed his first career home run to help lead the charge for the Maroons.
“Our offense has definitely come around in the last week or so,” Morgan said. “It seems like everyone who struggled earlier on is now producing in key situations.”
While they opened up the scoring in the first on a sac-fly by second-year shortstop Rob Serpico, the South Siders had to put up a fight to regain the lead after North Central pulled out some early runs. In the bottom of the first, the Cardinals singled home two runners to make it a 2–1 ballgame. After the Maroons tied it at two runs apiece in the third with an RBI double by Hofer, North Central took advantage of some shaky pitching by second-year hurler Alex Garbier (1–1, 7.50 ERA), who walked home second-year first baseman Adam Dobrez to score an unearned run.
Refusing to go down without a fight, the Maroons tied things up once again in the fourth on Morgan’s solo blast, which not only served as a great career cap-off for the graduating fourth-year but also as a turning point of sorts in the game. Chicago would lead for the rest of the outing, getting their act together on the mound and in the box, where they scored four runs over the following two frames.
“I think the key is finding a comfort zone,” Morgan said. “Earlier in the year, everyone seemed to press a bit because the hits just weren’t falling. Now that we’re hitting, we’re adopting a more confident approach, and that goes a long way toward having success at the plate.”
In the fifth, Hofer doubled home fourth-year third baseman Mike Serio, knocking the Cardinals starter, fourth-year righty Justin Rezzuto (2–2, 4.62), out of the game. Second-year righty reliever Joseph Gaza’s life was short-lived, however, as fourth-year right fielder Nate Ginsberg, first-year left fielder Zachary Osman, and third-year DH Travis Blane pounded him for two more runs, sending him back to the dugout. Fourth-year lefty Erik Hudson retired Morgan to end the inning, but the damage had been done. Serio scored once again in the sixth after reaching on an error. After a passed ball got him over to second, Hofer rocketed another double to bring him home, making the score 7–3 Chicago and belting his tenth RBI over the past eight games.
After surrendering three runs—two earned—over the first four innings, Garbier was relieved in the fifth by first-year righty Marshall Oium, who gave up just one run on three hits over the next four frames to earn his first career victory. A single sac-fly RBI was all the Cardinals could muster against Oium after putting men on first and second with no outs in the bottom of the sixth.
“He threw well against North Central,” Serio said. “He threw strikes early, which is a big thing for him or any pitcher. I remembered him getting ahead early and not walking too many people.”
Oium’s dominance on the mound would keep things silent for the next few innings. After Morgan singled Ginsberg home in the top of the ninth, third-year righty Alex Gallan (1–4, 5.70) hopped on board to close things out for the Maroons, who boasted a four-run lead going into the game’s last frame. Gallan allowed a double to left center by first-year left fielder Steve Hlavac to bring home two runs. Now just a two-run game, second-year third baseman Nick Robinson popped up to the shortstop to strand Hlavac, sealing the Cardinals’ fate.
Despite the strong outing, it still marked just the fourth win in fifteen games for the Maroons, as a late season slump marred a promising 4–2 start over spring break. The squad now faces its first losing season since 1999.
“A lot of us wished that we had about seven or eight games left so we could finish up strong,” Serio said.
Just one contest remains for the Maroons in what has turned into a grueling 2008 campaign. Chicago will visit IIT (11–22) Friday afternoon for its season finale. Looking to put hardships behind them, the Maroons are hoping to send off the many talented fourth-years on the squad with a conclusive win.
“It would be a great way to finish the season on a positive note,” Morgan said. “I know the seniors are going to enjoy playing with each other for one last time.”