Chicago (10–4) split its home opener on Monday against Lake Forest (5–9), winning the first half of the doubleheader 3–2 and losing the second 1–0, despite a dominating 11-strikeout performance by third-year Kim Cygan (6–1).
In the first game, the Maroons outplayed the Foresters by more than the final score would indicate, getting 11 runners on base to Lake Forest’s five. Fourth-year pitcher Sarah Neuhaus (3–2) picked up her third win of the season with a complete-game three-hitter.
The second game was scoreless through five innings in a pitcher’s duel, and was decided by a single solo home run by Lake Forest’s centerfielder Nora Logue. Chicago was left to rue the opportunities missed on offense against Lake Forest’s Kelly Chesnut (2–3), who earned the win with a complete game shutout.
“We have not traditionally fared well in our ‘home openers.’ So coming out with a split, although not ideal, is simply a foundation on which we can build,” head coach Ruth Kmak said.
Coming off of a strong spring trip to Florida to start the season (9–3), the Maroons looked to continue the dominant form that had seen them score more than nine runs five times, but ended up leaving 12 of their 15 baserunners stranded.
“Once we are aggressive and get things started offensively, then we need to finish. We are leaving far too many runs on base by not completing our offensive innings successfully,” Kmak said.
In the first game, Chicago got ahead early with an offensive burst in the second inning. Third-year outfielder Samantha Hobson got on base with a two-out double, and advanced to third on a single by third-year shortstop Vicky Tomaka, who advanced into scoring position with some aggressive baserunning on the defense’s throw to third. Second-year Kaitlyn Carpenter brought Tomaka and Hobson home with a single, before another out ended the inning.
Chicago looked primed to blow the game open the next inning, loading the bases with one out. Lake Forest managed to get a fielder’s choice for the second out before Hobson scored fourth-year Liz Payonk with an RBI single through the left side; Hobson would finish 3–3 at the plate in the first game.
That run was all the Maroons got in the inning, but it proved to be all they needed. Neuhaus kept the Foresters hitless until the fourth, and the visitors never mounted a serious threat, despite solo home runs in the fifth and seventh innings. Neuhaus plowed through the Lake Forest lineup, finishing with eight strikeouts and the complete game win.
“Our staff is keeping the opposition off-balance and doing what it takes to provide us the opportunity to win games,” said Kmak of her team’s pitching.
In the first game, the excitement for the Maroons came on offense; in the nightcap, Cygan’s pitching was the draw. She struck out five Lake Forest batters in the first two innings, striking out the side in the second. The Foresters’ Chestnut didn’t have quite the same firepower, but she stifled the Chicago batters just the same.
“Personally, I prefer pitching in closer games because they are more exciting, and I like pitching under pressure,” said Cygan, whose loss broke a streak of 10 straight wins or no-decisions dating back to last season. “After the solo home run, my approach was to shake it off and not let them get anything else…you can’t dwell on one mistake.”
The Maroons got a runner on base in four straight innings starting in the third, but couldn’t string any hits together. Their best chance was in the sixth inning, when Carpenter got on base with no outs. The Maroons tried a sacrifice bunt to get her home, but the Lake Forest fielders sniffed the play out.
Despite their disappointing loss in the second game, the Maroons enjoyed the chance to play at home after their spring trip.
“The home opener is always a high point,” Cygan said.