BY JOHN GROCHOWSKI
For the Sun-Times
As a two-time defending CCAC tournament champion and a regular-season co-champion, making it three consecutive years atop the league, Judson is used to baseball success. And with a 21-9 start, the Eagles are on a similar track to their 41-19 record of last season.
They’ve done it despite a slew of injuries on the mound. Among the pitchers sidelined were top starter Ryan Perez, No. 2 starter Angel Sanchez and Jordan Pemble, Judson’s all-time saves leader. Now the Eagles are getting healthy.
Perez, a junior, was the MVP of the Cape Cod League All-Star Game last summer and rated as the top pro prospect in NAIA by Perfect Game.
“He strained his triceps in the preseason,” said coach Rich Benjamin, whose team took two from Holy Cross on Monday, then lost two to Purdue Calumet on Tuesday. “He’s an ambidextrous pitcher, and he’s giving us like three innings from the right side in closing-type roles. But he has not pitched from the left side, which would be his strong draft side. We’re hoping to get him back around mid-April.”
Right-hander Sanchez, a junior-college All-American last season for Waubonsee, has been recovering from an injury suffered last fall. The junior made his first start Monday and went all seven innings in a 14-5 rout of Holy Cross. Pemble, a senior right-hander, had an ailing shoulder but has worked his way back in the last two weeks.
A full complement of pitchers will make Judson even more dangerous, but the offense has held its own. The Eagles are averaging more than six runs per game. The biggest bat belongs to senior first baseman Tony Rallo, a three-time All-CCAC selection and a Gold Glove who’s hitting .333 with seven home runs, nine doubles and a .701 slugging percentage.
“This year, he’s really putting it together,” Benjamin said. “He gives you a lot of quality at-bats. He’s a vocal leader, a really encouraging kid. He’s really leading us at the plate with being consistent day after day and having an approach that matches his identity as a player.”
Strong on lanes
Robert Morris finished second and St. Francis of Joliet third in the NAIA Invitational women’s bowling finals Friday through Sunday in Arlington Heights.
The event, won by Pikeville (Kentucky), brought together the top 20 NAIA teams. In Baker match play, Robert Morris lost to Pikeville but then rolled into the finals. Because of the earlier loss, Robert Morris needed to beat Pikeville twice to win the tournament. The Eagles won one match but lost the second. Sophomore Stephanie Cieslewicz was named to the All-American team.
St. Francis stood second entering match play but lost to Aquinas. The Saints then beat Lindenwood-Belleville, Grand View and Marian before falling to Robert Morris with a trip to the final on the line. Senior Caitlin Hoffman was named a second-team All-American.