Baseball Upended In Thrilling Extra-Inning League Title Game By Wright State

Brett Schaefer went 3-for-6 in Sunday's championship game against Wright State.
Brett Schaefer went 3-for-6 in Sunday's championship game against Wright State.

May 24, 2009

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LORAIN, Ohio- Facing opposition ranging from the potent Wright State offense to a ravenous flu virus that inflicted a majority of the squad, the UIC baseball team was unable to complete its quest for a third consecutive Horizon League tournament title as the Flames were upended by the Raiders, 6-2 in a 12-inning championship game at The Pipe Yard on Sunday.

The Flames conclude their season with an overall record of 29-23 despite a gutsy effort in their third consecutive title game appearance.

Junior starter Chris Kovacevich gave up just two hits in a brilliant 6.2-inning outing on less than two days of rest, while senior designated hitter Brett Schaefer went 3-for-6 with a clutch RBI in his final collegiate contest.

Senior All-League outfielder Jake Carr, the team's RBI leader and a co-leader in homers, missed the game with the same severe flu that kept fellow all-conference teammates Brandon Harwell and Jason Ganek out of yesterday's tourney games, while various Flames were stricken with the illness throughout the weekend. Even head coach Mike Dee took ill with serious flu-like symptoms and left the game for to go to a local hospital before returning to the dugout in extra innings.

Ganek, the team's leading hitter, came off the bench in the bottom of the ninth as a defensive substitution, while Harwell, the Flames' on-base and a fellow home run leader, made the start at first in his final game. Chris Rutta, another starter and home run co-leader, remained out with head and leg injuries suffered from his collision into a fence diving for a foul ball in right on Thursday, while hot-hitting rookie catcher Nathan Orf could only pinch hit after suffering a hamstring injury on Friday.

Despite the adversity facing the Flames, UIC stood just one out away from securing its third straight NCAA Regional trip. But the two-time defending tournament champions lost a 2-1 lead with two outs in the top of the ninth and eventually succumbed to a four-run top of the 12th for the Raiders (33-28).

Kovacevich, who unleashed 108 pitches in the Flames' tournament opener on Thursday night, was one-hitting Wright State through six and successfully navigating out of any threats.

After allowing a leadoff single to Casey McGrew in the seventh and a sacrifice bunt to move McGrew into scoring position, the junior southpaw got a huge out by fanning Ryan Ashe. That marked the conclusion of Kovacevich's day, when closer Derrick Miramontes was summoned from the pen to face Kory Twede.

Miramontes went ahead 1-2, but Twede sent a base hit through the left side to bring McGrew home with the game's first run.

The Raiders maintained a 1-0 lead until the bottom of the eighth. Andy Leonard reached on Aaron Fields' throwing error from second, and Harwell put a pair aboard with his left-field knock.

That set the stage for Schaefer, who continued to cement his status as one of UIC's top postseason hitters of all time when he sent a single into right after bluffing a bunt. That drove in Leaonrd with the tying run.

The bases were loaded two batters later for Ty Rubio, who looped a single to left that plated the go-ahead run. Schaefer trailed Harwell but was called out on a very close play at the plate with what would have been a critical insurance run.

Miramontes got Horizon League Player of the Year Jeff Mercer to swing at a ball in the dirt, but the ball went past catcher Steven Humble to allow Mercer to advance to first on a wild pitch. McGrew laid down a sac bunt, and Miramontes struck out Quentin Cate to get the Flames within an out of the win and the title.

Ashe drew a five-pitch walk to set up another encounter between Miramontes and Twede. Twede hurt the Flames once again, driving an 0-1 pitch to center that allowed pinch runner Tristan Moore to score the game-tying tally.

UIC put a runner at second in the bottom half of the ninth but could not score the walk-off winning run, sending the already-exciting game into extras.

Both teams put runners in scoring position in their portions of the 10th and 11th without bringing any of them home.

With Fields on first after he took a one-out walk, Moore sent a ball deep into the left centerfield gap. The throw home beat Fields, but Humble was unable to corral the toss in a collision at the plate as Wright State reclaimed the lead.

The Raiders weren't done in the inning. With the infield in, Cate hit a grounder to Leonard at short that was picked up and thrown home, but the attempt took Humble away from the plate to bring in another Wright State run safely.

Ashe hit a two-run single moments later to cap the Raider rally.

The valiant Flames would not go quietly, as Harwell drew a walk and Schaefer singled again to lead off the bottom half of the 12th. But John Rosinski's ground ball was converted into a double play, and Ganek hit a foul fly caught by Fields for the final out.

Adam Worthington, the 2009 Horizon League Pitcher of the Year, made his final appearance on a UIC uniform by inducing a double-play grounder to end the top of the 12th. Worthington concluded his outstanding career with 107 appearances, the second-most in school history.

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