David almost took down Goliath in Evanston, Illinois on Wednesday. As Chicago (18—12—1) faced D-I powerhouse Northwestern (17—27) they had something the Wildcats didn’t, something that all the athletic scholarship and talent in the world couldn’t give them: A nothing-to-lose mentality.
That mentality, along with stellar pitching and solid fielding , had the Maroons within reach of one of the biggest upsets in D-III baseball this year. Chicago came so close that only one run and one inning wound up being the difference between the teams. The final score of the game was 4—3.
The scoring kicked off when Northwestern drove in the first run of the day in the bottom of the second. It wasn’t long before Chicago answered with a score of their own, however, as fourth-year right fielder Marshall Oium, who went two for four on the day, drove in a run on an RBI double.
The scoring exchange continued when Northwestern retook the lead with an RBI single in the third. However, the game was tied up again an inning later on a run-scoring base hit by second-year center fielder Ben Bullock.
The seventh inning is when the game really heated up. Northwestern got off to a good start scoring a run early. With center fielder Cody Stevens on second, Northwestern signaled for their speedster to steal third. Stevens took off, sliding into what appeared to be the glove of first—year third-baseman Will Katzka, but the umpire swung his arms, “Safe!” This prompted Chicago Head Coach Brian Baldea to rise from his comfortable spot on the bench and argue the call.
His continual objections eventually led to his ejection. A few pitches later that same runner slid into home on a wild pitch for the game’s winning run.
With the score at 4—2 Chicago headed into their season’s final inning with one last breath of air, a slingshot, and a stone.
The Maroons started off the inning hot, putting runners on the corners. Katzka started off the action by hitting a single, one of his two hits on the day. Oium followed Katzka’s single with a single of his own, and a wild pitch advanced Oium to third and moved in Katzka for the score, making the score 4-3.
Down one run in the top of the ninth, Chicago found itself in a position every underdog dreams of, with a man on third and no outs. Slingshot in hand, they took their shot. Unfortunately for the Maroons they did not hit their bull’s-eye, as three straight batters went down swinging and the Wildcats held off the Herculean upset and won the game 4—3.
Baldea was quick to compliment his squad after the game. “The team played very well at Northwestern and competed throughout the game in all ways,” said Baldea. “The pitching and defense was particularly strong, allowing no extra base hits and committing no errors. We simply fell a little short of getting a key hit to put us ahead in a couple of crucial situations.”
The four pitchers who all had impressive outings were fourth-year Dan McConologue, second-year Matt O’Connor, first-year Alex Terry, and third-year Alex Garcia. Of the four, O’Connor took the loss, his first in six decisions. None of the pitchers allowed more than two runs in their time on the mound, and Garcia closed the game—and the season—with two scoreless innings.
With no post-season and with with 2011 at its end, Baldea shared his feelings about the season: “The 2011 season was a good one and just a couple of close losses away from being an outstanding one. There were many highlights including a win at U.S. Cellular Field against our South Side rivals (Illinois Tech), a tripleheader sweep of Washington University, a ninth-inning win against Aurora University, a late-season doubleheader sweep of Rockford to keep us in contention for a regional ranking, and the highly competitive game with Northwestern University. Many of the contributions came from first-year and second-year players, so the future looks promising. With another strong recruiting class coming in, we are already looking forward to 2012.”
Second-year Bullock said, “We have a lot to look forward to next year.”