CHICAGO - Needing at least one more win against Purdue University-North Central (Ind.) Saturday to win the key conference series and move one step closer to a postseason berth, the Saint Xavier University baseball team did just that winning the opening game, 6-5, to capture its second victory in the three-game Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference (CCAC) series at Richard R. Ferrell Memorial Field in Chicago. Unfortunately, the visiting Panthers took the late game Saturday by a score of 6-4, which kept the Cougars from clinching the final postseason berth for next week's six-team CCAC Baseball Tournament. With two games against conference foe Judson University (Ill.) scheduled for Sunday afternoon, SXU needs to win at least one to secure a conference tournament spot (or a loss by Purdue-North Central in any of its final three games on Sunday and Monday).
Senior third baseman Matt Erickson (Oak Lawn, Ill./Richards) had one of the hottest bats for the Cougars Saturday cranking out five combined hits, including a pair of doubles. Saint Xavier got another solid start out of sophomore right-hander Mike Stirling (Thornton, Ill./Mount Carmel) in the day's first game. Stirling went all seven innings and allowed 11 hits, five runs (four earned) and three walks with three strikeouts to improve to 7-1 overall this season. Erickson and junior second baseman Tom Simek (New Lenox, Ill./St. Laurence) each posted two hits in the opener, while freshman first baseman Brad Myjak (Tinley Park, Ill./Mount Carmel) had two RBI and sophomore left fielder Tony O'Shea (Valparaiso, Ind./Mount Carmel) recorded two runs scored. SXU jumped out to a 4-0 lead after four innings of play before the Panthers made a late charge scoring three runs in the top of the fifth to cut the lead to a run, 4-3. A two-RBI double by Myjak in the bottom of the fifth gave the Cougars a 6-3 advantage, which proved to be just enough as PUNC plated two more runs in the top of the sixth. With a one-run lead of 7-6, Stirling would put the Panthers down in order in the top of the seventh to secure the victory.
Erickson had another impressive performance at the plate in game two going a perfect 3-for-3 with a double and a run scored. Saint Xavier got on the board first in the bottom of the first when senior center fielder Anthony Maziur (Oak Forest, Ill./Northern Illinois University/Oak Forest) scored from third base on a passed ball. PUNC quickly tied the game, 1-1, in the top of the second on a sacrifice fly to center field. In the bottom of the fourth, Simek scored on a wild pitch to give the Cougars back the lead, 2-1; but Purdue-North Central would answer the call again scoring two more runs in the fifth to take a 3-2 lead. Junior designated hitter Brett Ratajczak (Joliet, Ill./Joliet Catholic) would score on a fielder's choice in the sixth to tie things up again, 3-3, heading into the final frame. However, the Panthers would plate three runs off three hits, including a two-run homer to left field, in the top of the seventh to go back ahead, 6-3. Things looked promising for a SXU rally with a quick run scored by Erickson and runners at second and third with no outs, but a pitching change by the Panthers made all the difference as a fielder's choice and a double play on the final at-bat ended the rally attempt.
Saint Xavier (26-24-1 overall/18-10 CCAC) wraps up regular season play on Sunday, May 1, with a doubleheader against conference foe Judson University (Ill.). The first game will start at 1 p.m. at SXU's Ferrell Field in Chicago.