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Early start has benefits for Judson baseball

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Baseball season starts early for Judson
University in Elgin.
February trips to the
Metrodome in Minneapolis to play Morningside, to Kentucky to play Mid-Continent and to Tennessee for games against Freed-Hardeman made sure the Eagles got in plenty of early work.

That’s how coach Rich Benjamin likes it, and the Eagles (26-14, 11-3 Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference going into a doubleheader Wednesday against St. Francis) are thriving on their busy schedule. The defending CCAC champions entered play Wednesday leading Robert Morris (20-11, 8-3) in the South Division race.

‘‘That was a big focus when I got here — traveling out of state to Kentucky, to the Metrodome or to Tennessee, getting four games in on a weekend,’’ said Benjamin, who is in his sixth season as Judson’s coach. ‘‘When you play early, you tend to have to play everybody. You have to get those early at-bats out of the way; the arms have to get their work in. And then each team has to find its own identity, regardless of the previous year’s successes or failures. Each team is a new team, and you’ve got to get out there and get reps for that to happen.’’

This team has carved a strong offensive identity, outscoring opponents 296-180 entering play Wednesday. Sophomore catcher Cameron Balough (.387, four home runs, 54 RBI) is battling for the NAIA lead in RBI, and freshman shortstop Luke Rojas is hitting .369. On the mound, Andrew Bergmann (5-0, 2.45 ERA) and Craig Lipp (4-2, 2.68) have been leaders.

‘‘I think we’ve been pretty well-rounded,’’ Benjamin said. ‘‘We’re very young in places. Some of that is the result of bringing in some pretty good freshmen in the recruiting class, and some is the result of injuries. We’re pretty pleased. I think we’re [in the] top 10 nationally in most hitting categories, so that’s kind of been there for us all years. Twenty-six home runs, and we’ve swung the bats really well. We ran the bases well. And then we’re fielding .965, which is pretty competitive. The pitching has been stable, and it’s gotten better as the year has gone on.’’

Watch the birdies

St. Francis of Joliet and St. Xavier both set school records, but it was St. Francis that came out on top Tuesday at the USF Spring Invitational men’s golf tournament at Inwood Golf Course in Joliet.

As a team, the host Fighting Saints shot 3-under-par 281 to top the 12-team field. St. Xavier was at even-par 284, 15 strokes ahead of third-place College of DuPage.

St. Francis junior Josh Goss was the top individual at 3-under 68, one stroke better than two St. Xavier golfers, James Kerr and Kirby Brown. Saints also took fourth, fifth and seventh with Austin Gass at 70, Scott Ratzburg at 71 and Martin Hetelle at 72.

Hetelle finished fourth at the Illinois Wesleyan Spring Invitational last weekend and was named CCAC golfer of the week for the second week in a row.

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