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Small colleges: Concordia Chicago baseball looking to add tournament title

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Goal No. 1 is in hand for Concordia Chicago’s baseball team, the regular-season champion in the Northern Athletics Conference. Now it’s on to the postseason.

“It’s a big deal,” said Adam Smith, coach at the River Forest school. “The conference tournament gets the automatic berth [to the NCAA Division III regionals], but winning the regular season is just as important. You want to win that, get the conference championship, get the banner — that’s a pretty cool thing for our guys. That’s our first goal every year.”

The Cougars (32-5, 18-4), ranked 19th in Division III by the American Baseball Coaches Association, nudged Benediction (30-8, 17-5) and Aurora (24-11, 17-5) by a game to take the No. 1 seed for the NAC tournament that opens Thursday at Concordia Wisconsin in Mequon. Concordia Chicago opens against sixth-seeded Wisconsin Lutheran, Benedictine plays Concordia Wisconsin and Aurora plays Rockford in the double-elimination tournament.

Concordia Chicago closed the regular season by giving Smith his 100th victory in three years as coach, beating CCIW champion Illinois Wesleyan 5-0 in Bloomington.

Pitching and defense have been the key, along with a late surge in offense. Smith pointed to starters Dan Kluss (6-1, 2.89 ERA) and Bobby Beelan (5-1, 3.04) as staff anchors. In the bullpen, Steve Cox has been nearly perfect, among the national leaders with 10 saves and allowing no earned runs in 14 innings.

“The back end of our bullpen has been fantastic,” he said.

On defense, “[Robert Weis] is the best defensive shortstop in the country, and our center fielder, Shawn Miller, has won the Gold Glove two years in a row, and hopefully this will be the third.”

With designated hitter Thomas Gier (.394, 39 RBI) and first baseman Derek Binninger (.362, 31) leading the offense, Concordia is rolling.

Judson in NAIA play

After pounding Trinity Christian 13-3 on Friday to win the CCAC tournament, Judson (44-15) takes on 13th-ranked Cumberland of Tennessee to open NAIA tournament play at 2 p.m. Thursday at Silver Cross Field in Joliet.

In the CCAC title game, the top four hitters in the lineup — Johnny Amann, Cameron Balough, Tony Rallo and Josh Raymond — each had three hits, and No. 5 hitter Mark DeYoung had two hits and five RBI.

Cardinals track titles

North Central breezed to the men’s and women’s team titles in the CCIW track championships Friday and Saturday at Millikin in Decatur.

The men totaled 264 points to 216 for Augustana, while the women picked up 228.5 points to 170.5 for runner-up Illinois Wesleyan.

Ranked No. 7 in Division III, the men had five individual champions, including Joe McAvoy, whose 32:00.06 in the 10,000-meter run led the Cardinals to the top-five places in the event.

Josh Winder (16-63/4) gave North Central its seventh consecutive CCIW outdoor pole-vault championship.

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