By the bottom of the ninth inning in Tuesday night’s non-conference game between the University of Illinois at Chicago and Northwestern, it appeared almost certain that the Wildcats were going to walk away with a 3-1 win.
But the Flames weren’t going down that easy.
The UIC Flames warm up before their game against Northwestern. The Flames are 5-9 against Northwestern overall. (Photo by Allison Horne)
With two outs and two men on base in the bottom of the ninth, it looked like the Flames, trailing 3-1, would be heading home soon.
That was before sophomore Zenon Kolakowski took the plate for UIC (21-25). He smashed a base hit to left field, scoring Alex Jurich, and bringing the Flames’ offensive leader sophomore Tyler Detmer to face Northwestern’s Jack Quigley on the mound.
Not a stranger to pressure, Detmer, who has a .314 batting average,went 3-for-5 on the game and sent a ball flying straight to center field, which was good enough to score Ryan Shober and tie the game at three. Even with the momentum and remaining out on their side, a strikeout for the Flames sent the game into extra innings.
“We strung a couple of good at-bats together and we did a good job in that inning,” UIC head coach Mike Dee said. “But once again, we had several opportunities earlier in the game and we ended the inning with a strikeout, and that’s not just something we’re going to be able to do.”
Strikeouts were the catalyst to the mid-game slump that the Flames couldn’t escape, ending the game with 11 total. After notching one run in the first inning with an RBI by Detmer, the Flames didn’t connect with the ball until late—almost too late—in the game.
But the strikeouts returned to haunt the team again after the Wildcats racked up two more runs in the 11th inning. When UIC had the chance to answer to the Wildcats’ 5-3 lead in the bottom of the ninth, the Flames couldn’t pull together more than a single and two strikeouts, and suffered the same fate they almost did earlier in the ninth.
“We actually did a good job at the plate with the exception that we struck out too many times,” Dee said. “We struck out basically what turned out to be an average of once an inning. It’s really hard to get a big inning, and that’s what you need to win college baseball games. Trying to do that with just two outs is really hard to do. That’s what hurt us today.”
The Flames managed to hold Northwestern (21-20) scoreless until the sixth inning, when Scott Heelen smashed his first career home run beyond the left-field wall for the Wildcats, evening the score at 1-1. The home run was the only run out of the four hits allowed by Flames starting pitcher Mike Schoolcraft. Schoolcraft, who has a 3.30 ERA, was one of five total pitchers that saw the field throughout the game.
The Flames chat after their 5-3 loss to Northwestern on Tuesday. (Photo by Allison Horne)
“The fact that we came back from two down in the ninth just put the feather in our cap there,” Detmer said. “Later on in the conference tournament if that situation comes up again, we’ve done it so it won’t be as hard the next time.”
The team doesn’t have much time to bounce off the loss and be ready to finish out the remainder of their schedule against tough conference opponents. The Flames will be hosting Valparaiso at Les Miller Field for three games on May 10, 11 and 12, followed by a road trip to Wright State on May 16, 17 and 18. The Horizon League Championship will close out the season at the end of May in Youngstown, Ohio.
“The last piece of the puzzle for us in terms of going into the tournament and really having a legitimate chance to win is that we got to get this strikeout thing rectified,” Dee said. “We’ve got to be able to put the ball in play and force the defense instead of only having to get two-thirds of the outs, we need to force them to get all of them. If we can fix that, we will be fine.”
UIC: Tyler Detmer, 3-for-5, 2 RBIs; Zenon Kolakowski, 1-for-3, 1 RBI; Mike Schoolcraft, 6 IP, gave up only 4 hits, 1 run
Northwestern: Scott Heelan, 2-for-5, 2 runs, 1 RBI; Jack Mitchell, 2-for-5, 1 run, 1 RBI; Jack Livingston, 2-for-5, 2 RBI
Winning pitcher: Jack Quigley (1-1)
Losing Pitcher: Joey Begel (2-7)
Save: Dan Tyson (2)