Cougars punch ticket to playoffs

More news about: Concordia-Chicago
The Cougars earned the program's fourth NCAA III regional appearance since 2009.
Concordia-Chicago athletics photo

All season long, the Concordia Cougars' pitching depth has been a strong suit. Nowhere was that more evident than the team's four games at the Northern Athletics Collegiate Conference tournament this weekend. The Cougars finished a 4-0 sweep through the field with an 8-2 win over tournament host Concordia University Wisconsin this afternoon at Kapco Park in Mequon. With the win, the Cougars earned the program's fourth NCAA III regional appearance since 2009 and its third consecutive.

The Cougars' pitching staff set a new tournament record with a collective 1.29 ERA in 35 innings of work. Concordia's pitchers allowed just seven runs over the tournament, two of them unearned. "It's no secret that when you play in a conference tournament or a regional, pitching depth becomes a huge factor after the first two days or so," said CUC head coach Adam Smith. "We're very blessed to have the quality arms that we have, and we are confident with anybody that we send to the mound."

While the Cougar pitchers were in control, the offense made sure that there were no worries. As in last night's 20-1 win over Dominican, the Cougars got down to business early. Steve Zubrzycki (McHenry, IL/Marian Central Catholic) was hit by Tyler Adams' first pitch of the game. Will Randerson (Combined Locks, WI/Kimberly) worked a walk following a stolen base by Zubrzycki, and Carlos Olavarria (Rosemont, IL/East Leyden) bunted for a base hit to load the bases.

Thomas Gier (Fox Lake, IL/Grant Community) fell behind 1-2 in the count but then lined Adams' next offering sharply into rightfield, scoring Zubrzycki and Randerson and sending Olavarria to third. One out later, Dan Eichholzer (Elwood, IL/Joliet Township) shot a single between third and short to plate Olavarria. A ground ball to second advanced both runners, and Rich Santarelli (Homer Glen, IL/Chicago Christian) scored both of them with a single to left for a 5-0 lead after one.

Austin Baglow relieved for the Falcons to start the second and would shut down the Cougars over the next few innings, but he could only match zeroes with CUC starter Cody Caballero (Lemont, IL/H.S.). Named to the All-NACC Freshmen team just a few days ago, Caballero was sharp from the beginning. He struck out four batters in the first 1 2/3 innings and allowed just one hit through the first four innings.

The Falcons finally broke through in the fifth on a leadoff double by Matt Schubert and a one-out single by Jordan Mathiebe. But the Cougars answered as is their custom with a run in their half of the inning. Gier led off with a single, was sacrificed to second by Huber and came home on a single by Colin Bethran (Schaumburg, IL/H.S.).

Concordia-Chicago's final two runs came from Dan LoDolce (Northlake, IL/Walther Lutheran). The sophomore had only one career homer entering play today but put an exclamation mark on the victory with two solo blasts. His sixth-inning shot was on a line about 10 feet inside of the foul pole in left. LoDolce's eighth-inning blast, just about five feet to the right of his first homer, answered the Falcons' final run in the top of the inning. The sophomore became only the second player to homer twice in an NACC tournament game. The first was CUC's Jack Walker who accomplished the feat exactly six years ago today in a game against Rockford College.

Caballero exited the game after the eighth inning, having allowed just the two runs on seven hits. He struck out six, just one shy of his career high, and walked no one. Steve Cox (Villa Park, IL/Willowbrook) pitched the ninth, retiring the side on a fly to right, a 3-1 grounder and a strikeout of Mathiebe to touch off the celebration.

The Cougars claimed some new records in the tournament. Their 14 stolen bases beat their own record of 10 set back in 2009. Olavarria was a perfect 6-6 in steals, beating the old record of four set by Josh Davidson of Aurora in 2012. The 32 strikeouts racked up by CUC pitchers tied the mark held by Aurora in the 2012 tournament. The Cougars also tied one of their records with 39 runs scored (2008, 2011).

The Cougars (37-5) will find out on Monday morning which of the eight NCAA III regionals will be their destination. Information will be made available on the website at when it becomes available.