Flames Finish 2012 Season as Horizon League Runner-Up

Junior Joe Betcher went 3-for-5 with two runs and one RBI in Sunday's championship game.
Junior Joe Betcher went 3-for-5 with two runs and one RBI in Sunday's championship game.

May 27, 2012

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CHICAGO - The UIC baseball team saw its 2012 Horizon League Championship run fall short on Sunday afternoon as they fell to top-seeded Valparaiso by a final score of 14-5.  The Flames finished the tournament as the runner-up for the first time since 2009 and have won the event or placed second eight times since 2000, tops among all League schools.

 The Flames also posted a new program record with four conference tournament wins, playing six games in five days. For their performance, juniors Alex Grunenwald, Joe Betcher and Alex De LaRosa earned a spot on the All-Tournament Team.

"It's always disappointing to lose when you're that close," said head coach Mike Dee.  "Our pitching was exhausted after playing six games in five days and we made some crucial mistakes.  The reality is that almost our entire team is back and experience of going through this and being disappointed will serve as motivation for us for next year.  We saw ourselves play at a high level and I thought it was important for them to know that they are capable of doing that." 

The Flames lead Crusaders 5-3 after plating three in the top of the fifth inning, but Valpo rattled off 11 unanswered runs, including eight in the seventh frame to claim the League title and an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.

"The truth is that Valpo is a very good club and I hope they do well in the NCAA tournament," said Dee.

The Crusaders jumped in front of the Flames early with three runs in the first inning, but UIC retaliated with two scores in the top half of the third frame.  Sophomore John Coen began the inning by reaching base on a walk, but was caught up in a double play off a grounder by Jacob McNamara.  De LaRosa then singled to right center and stole second base.  He was driven home by Betcher who smacked a triple to right field, his second of the championship and Betcher was eventually plated off a single by Jon Ryan

In the top of the fifth inning, the Flames retook the lead as Betcher kicked things off with a single to center and Alex Lee advanced him over to third with an infield single.  Alex Jurich juiced the bases with walk and Nick Addison forced Betcher home as he was hit by a pitch.  John Coen then drove in Lee and Jurich with a single to right field.

That proved to be the final tallies for UIC as Valpo went on to plate 11 runners, including an eight-run surge in the eighth frame.

The Flames finished the season winning seven of their last 11 games and tied a League tournament record with five triples throughout the event.  In the six championship games, UIC posted a team batting average of .357 with 76 hits, 46 runs, 11 doubles and eight home runs.

Grunenwald also tied an individual conference tournament record with three homers, including two against Wright State in game four on Thursday, May 24.

"This past week everything came together for us," said Dee. "Once you've learned how to play tough and you've learned how to relax in tight situations then you have something you can always go back to." 

"We have a lot of work to do before next season and I told our guys that we're going to be better a year from now.  I think we all have a very clear understanding of what needs to be done in order to win the league, win the championship and go back the NCAA tournament."