May 11, 2017 – With the beginning of the Northern Athletics Collegiate Conference tournament came the time for the Concordia-Chicago Cougars to step up into postseason mode. The Cougars have done that to perfection with a 15-0 record over the last four conference tournaments, heading into tonight's opener against fourth-seeded Benedictine University. The Eagles contained the Cougars' offense early, but once CUC started scoring runs, they did not stop until they had accomplished a 13-3 win in seven innings.
Benedictine had advanced into tonight's game after edging fifth-seeded Dominican University earlier this afternoon, and the Eagles had ace Frank Greco ready for the Cougars. Right-hander Keaton Conner took the mound for CUC, making tonight a rematch of game one from the April 28 doubleheader at Concordia. The Cougars had won that game 9-6, but tonight's game started out as if runs would be much harder to come by.
Conner and Greco both retired the side 1-2-3 in the first although Brent Spohr hit a deep shot that was caught at the warning track. Conner found himself in trouble in the second as three walks had the bases loaded with just one out. However, the right-hander got out of trouble with a swinging strikeout and a line drive to Joe Silva in rightfield.
Both teams went hitless until the fourth when Benedictine started the scoring. Chayance Stirbis beat out an infield hit, took second on a wild pitch and scored on Sam Kerr's two-out single up the middle.
The challenge to answer the run brought the CUC bats to life in the bottom of the inning. With one out, Silva ended Greco's string of 10 consecutive batters retired when his liner to right hit the top of the fence and bounded back into play, Silva legging out a double. With two out, Mitch Wilson lined a shot up the middle that glanced off Greco's glove and bounced into center as Silva raced around third to touch home plate and toe the game 1-1.
The Cougars started the offense rolling again with two outs in the fifth. Kevin Garvey drew a four-pitch walk and wasted little time stealing second base. Brendan Klein then hit a perfectly-placed single to right-center as Garvey came around to give CUC the 2-1 lead.
Come the sixth inning, and the Cougars went to the long ball to widen the lead. Bryan VanDuser reached on a lead-off walk, and Silva followed with a towering blast about 10 feet inside the foul pole for his third homer of the season and a 4-1 lead. The Cougars had more in store, however, as Wilson dropped a double inside the leftfield line with one out. Greco retired the next batter and was on the verge of escaping the inning when an infield error put runners on the corners. That brought Doug Matthews to the plate, and he hammered a 1-0 pitch to the scoreboard in left for a three-run homer and a 7-1 lead.
The Eagles weren't ready to surrender, as Nick Severino went yard with a two-run shot to right in the seventh to make it a 7-3 game. But the Cougars matched that, and then some. A walk to Klein and a single by VanDuser started the bottom of the seventh. Silva then bunted, and the throw to third sailed high and bounced around in foul territory as both runners scored. Spohr then singled past the shortstop to score Silva 10-3. The Cougars kept going as Wilson walked and Kevin Coppin singled to load the bases. Justin Rodriguez was hit by a pitch to force in a run and make it 11-3. Matthews then ended the game early as he hit a bouncer past the third baseman and down the line. His fourth and fifth RBIs of the night made it mercy time as the Cougars won their eighth straight game overall and 16th in tournament play since 2013.
Head coach Mike Stawski praised his entire team for their contributions to the win but did note particularly Silva's and Matthews' heroics. "Credit Coach (Kolin) Conner for picking Silva as his 'pick to click' tonight. Not only his hitting but also the big defensive play in right. And Matthews is a senior, he does not want his career to end. If we can get production in the two and seven spots in the order as we did tonight, nobody will be able to stop us."
The Cougars (27-11) will advance to tomorrow night's second-round game against host and second-seeded Concordia University Wisconsin. The Cougars and Falcons split their two games in the regular season, also at Kapco Pa