By Cole Sheeks, Sports Editor
Follow him on twitter: @ColeSheeks
With a spot in the CCIW Tournament on the line, the Bluejays baseball team (21-18, 13-11 CCIW) fell short in both games of a double header against the North Central Cardinals (20-15, 15-8 CCIW) in their season finale. The Cardinals won game one by a final score of 10-6 and game two by a score of 11-3.
With right-hander Ben Havel on the mound in game one, the Bluejays were confident in their ability to receive a good start; however, things did not go their way early and North Central was able to take advantage of fielding miscues committed EC defenders.
“We know [North Central is] a good ballclub. You’re confident [and Havel] is our number one guy. You want to have him on the mound in a game like that, and we didn’t get an out on a bunt” said Bluejays manager Joel Southern, reflecting on a fielding error that started an early North Central rally. “It was the third inning and they had a big inning.”
The Cardinals managed to score three runs in that inning and followed with four in the fourth, building a seven run lead over the Bluejays, setting the tone for the both games.
“We got behind early in both games and it’s hard to claw back from that against a good team” added Southern. “In the second game, Trey Compton’s ball, he lines out with the bases loaded and we left the bases loaded a couple of times at least, … they’re a good hitting ballclub. We didn’t get a couple outs when we could have and they got a couple of big innings.”
The Bluejays managed to battle back and score five runs to bring themselves back into contention in the first game, yet they were never able to even the score and played from behind throughout. The Cardinals added a few late runs and took game one with relative ease.
“When you are behind, it limits your options a little bit, unfortunately. You don’t want to give away outs. We didn’t swing it today as well as we could, but you’ve got to give credit to them too. I mean, they pitched well and they’re a good ballclub,” said Southern “When you’re playing a good ballclub you have to have somethings go your way and you have to score runs when you can.”
Looking to salvage the day in game two, the Bluejays called upon Austin MacMillan to lead the way on the mound; however, the Cardinals came out swinging and hung four runs on the ledger in the top of the first inning, requiring Southern to get his bullpen up early.
MacMillan escaped the inning and managed to work into the fourth inning before the Cardinals scored another run, yet the damage had been done.
The Bluejays scored a run in the sixth inning on a bases loaded walk and added two more in the seventh; however, North Central came up with a few key outs when they needed them.
“[North Central] turned a couple of double plays with the bases loaded. Those are big plays. You’re not going to have the bases loaded every inning and you need to take advantage of it when you do. We couldn’t quite chip away the way we needed to,” said Southern.
The wheels came off in final two innings as the Bluejays allowed six runs to score, effectively ending any comeback hopes.
The Bluejays finished their season with a 13-11 record in conference play, tied for fourth with the Illinois-Wesleyan Titans. Due to conference tiebreaker rules, the Titans were able to move on as the fourth seed in the CCIW postseason tournament, leaving the Bluejays as the first team out.
Although it did not end the way he wanted, Southern is proud of the way his team played this year.
“We had a rough patch in the beginning of the year. We started 2-5. The seniors brought us together after that,” said Southern. “We started the conference season on kind of a rough note. The day we had here with North Park with Berliner hitting that home run really sprung us to a great start in conference and we just got great play out of our seniors all year long, in particular, the top three in the batting order: Kressner, Havel and A.J. Compton, but really all of them. They did a great job of leading and a great job ofsetting the standard everyday. I’m just really proud of these guys.”
“I told them that I really believe we deserve to be in that tournament,” adds Southern. “Going 13-11 in the league, that’s a pretty good year in this league, that’s for sure.”