Concordia-Chicago Flashes 2017 Form in Pounding of Penn State Altoona

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March 7, 2018 - While Concordia-Chicago's 12-0 rout of St. John Fisher College on Monday was a good sign of the Cougars returning to their 2017 form, today's 15-5 win over Penn State University-Altoona perhaps better displayed the trademarks of the team that Cougar fans have come to know and love. A 19-hit attack, 10 stolen bases and key defense and relief pitching were all part of the equation that put the Cougars at 2-1 on the Florida trip and 4-2 on the season.

Ninth-ranked Concordia-Chicago was back on the same field in Auburndale that produced a 3-2 loss on Sunday, and for the first couple of innings, it appeared as if this game might follow the same course. Cody Caballero was on the mound for CUC, and he allowed a walk in each of the first two innings but no solid contact off the Lions' bats. Meanwhile, PSA freshman starter Jacob Plunket allowed four base runners in CUC's first go-around through the lineup but wiggled out of a bases loaded jam in the second with a key strikeout and fly ball to right.

The offenses began to click in the third. With two out, Caballero walked Hunter Breon. The Lions' number three hitter, Jim Shomberg, then doubled deep to right for PSA's first hit of the game, scoring Breon. Catcher Cumming then singled sharply to left to drive in Shomberg for a 2-0 lead.

Concordia-Chicago answered with a run in the bottom half of the inning as Keegan Tyrell walked and Joe Silva singled for the second of his five hits on the day. The two executed a double steal, but Plunket did well in limiting the damage. Only one run scored, that on Mitch Wilson's bouncer to second, and a grounder to third got Plunket out of trouble, leading 2-1. 

Plunket's escape loomed large as PSA struck for three more runs in the fourth. Austin Anderson led off with a triple to the right field corner. Justin Virga singled home Anderson, and Virga would later score on a wild pitch. Shomberg drove home the third run with a single, making the score 5-1 and ending Caballero's afternoon. Alex Meyers entered the game and slipped a third strike past the next batter to end the inning.

As they did 50 times last year and the second time today, the Cougars followed an opponent's scoring inning with one of their own. With one out, Kevin Garcia continued his hot hitting with a double to center. Matt Fauth singled Garcia to third, and Jose Mercado followed with one of the key at-bats of the game. Mercado fell behind 0-2 and fouled off three pitches before rifling a single to center for the RBI. Mercado then stole second and, as the throw got away from the middle infielder, Fauth scooted home for the second run of the inning. Tyrell then singled sharply off the pitcher's leg to put runners on the corners and, with two out, Andrew Massey singled up the middle to score Mercado for a 5-4 game.

Meyers retired the side in order in the fifth, and it was time for the Cougars to take charge of the game. A leadoff double by Brady Roberts and a single past first base by Kevin Coppin knotted the game and spelled the end of Plunket's day. A walk to Garcia and bunt single by Fauth brought up, who was hit on an 0-1 pitch to force in the go-ahead run. Tyrell then lifted a fly to short left which the shortstop made a nice catch with his back to the infield; however, an alert Garcia tagged up and scored as the unusual sacrifice fly made it a two-run lead for CUC.

Silva followed with his third hit of the day, dropping a single behind third base while Fauth scored. An alert Silva took second base on the throw to third to keep a second run from scoring. However, that run would score along with Silva's as Massey doubled deep to right for a 10-5 lead. Moments later, Roberts capped the inning with CUC's first homer of the season, a booming two-run shot to left that put the finishing touches on an eight-run inning.

Meyers held down the Lions with two more perfect innings, retiring all 10 batters he faced. The senior right-hander earned the win in relief, his second of the season. The Cougars would finish their scoring with Silva's leadoff homer to right in the sixth and a pair of runs in the eighth on Fauth's triple, a second Mercado HBP, Silva's single (his third RBI and fifth hit) and Massey's walk-off single to left.

"I really feel that our first four games were an aberration and that we've seen these last two games the team that we expect we can be," said CUC head coach Mike Stawski. "We know we are going to hit, and when we can utilize the running game the way we did today, it makes our offense so much more dangerous. Then our relief pitching and defense contribute the way they have been, and we feel like we're really beginning to hit our stride."

The Cougars will look to make it three in a row on Thursday morning when they take on Coe College from Iowa. Game time is 9:45 a.m. (EST) from Lake Myrtle Park in Auburndale.