First it was a skid--now it's a funk. The Carthage College baseball team (14-17, 4-12) lost its seventh-straight game on Friday, April 19, as the Red Men dropped both ends of a College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin doubleheader with North Central College (22-7, 12-3), 5-4 and 10-4, at Zimmerman Stadium/Alumni Field in Naperville, Ill.
The Cardinals, with an eight-game winning streak, moved into sole possession of the first place in the CCIW. Carthage is in seventh place, four games back of Illinois Wesleyan University for the final berth in the six-team CCIW Baseball Tournament with eight games to go.
In the opener, North Central loaded the bases with two outs in the first inning before Joe Rizzo delivered a two-run double. Carthage's Ben Levicki answered in the second inning with a solo home run to a right-centerfield wind tunnel to cut the lead to 2-1. The Cardinals made it 3-1 in the bottom of the second when Michael Stoltz scored from third on the front end of a double-steal attempt. A wind-driven double by Myles Farley in the third brought the Red Men to within a run, 3-2. Levicki hit another solo home run in the fourth, to pretty much the same spot as his first one, as the Red Men tied the game, 3-3.
That's the way the score stayed, as starting pitchers Matt Willett and Austin Polezoes dueled away. The Cardinals broke the tie with a pair of runs in the bottom of the eighth. Colin Weilbacher opened the inning by reaching second base on a throwing error by Red Men third baseman Kyle Engstrom. Willett struck out the next two batters before Weilbacher advanced to third on a wild pitch. Jared Wojcik then doubled in Weilbacher for the go-ahead run, and Michael Stoltz followed with an RBI-single for a 5-3 lead.
Carthage put runners on the corners with two outs in the ninth, and the lead runner, Ricky Bergstrom, scored on a balk to cut the lead to 5-4. North Central closer Tyler Jones got Jake Snider on a fielder's choice to end the game.
Austin Polezoes (3-2) was the winning pitcher and limited the Red Men to three runs on five hits, a walk and eight strikeouts over eight innings. Justin Rios took over the ninth, with Tyler Jones getting the last out for his fourth save. Matt Willett (3-1) took his first loss of the season. Willett gave up five runs, three earned, on seven hits, five walks and six strikeouts over eight innings. Ben Levicki went two-for-four with two solo home runs.
North Central took a 1-0 lead in the first inning of the nightcap and added another run in the second for a 2-0 lead. A Colton Klein RBI-single in the third made it 2-1 before a 12-minute fire delay in the top of the fourth when a propane heater in the Carthage dugout ignited
Maybe the fire rattled him, but Carthage pitcher Kyle Damon ran into trouble in the bottom of the fourth when the Cardinals scored five times on two hit batters, two walks and three singles to take a 7-1 lead. The Red Men narrowed the gap to 7-4 in the sixth on a three-run double by Vince Schwartz. North Central tallied three more in the sixth to take a 10-4 lead to close out the scoring.
Charlie Klemm (5-0) was the winning pitcher, as he allowed four runs on five hits, three walks and eight strikeouts over six innings. Patrick Schaefer blanked the Red Men on two hits and two walks over the final three frames to earn his third save. Kyle Damon (1-3) took the loss and surrendered seven runs, six earned, on five hits and three walks in just three innings. Chance Roach pitched the fourth and fifth innings, Brandon Hanik the sixth and Owen Reith the seventh and eighth.
"We're finding ways lose and expecting the worst to happen," admitted Carthage coach Augie Schmidt IV. "You can't play baseball that way, because the ball will find you. You can see it in the kids' faces that we're just playing not to lose. Matt Willett threw OK in the first game, but the first three North Central runs were because of hit batters and walks. We're giving everybody everything, and the other teams are making us earn it. In the second game, we gave them so many extra outs, and you can't do that against a good team like North Central. We battled two really pitchers today, maybe the best two pitchers in the league, but we're just playing like we're waiting for something bad to happen."
The two teams conclude the three-game series with a 1 p.m. single game on Saturday, April 20 at Augie Schmidt Field in Kenosha, Wis.