Strong spring trip sets bar high for 2009

The University of Chicago softball team returned from their spring break trip to Clermont, FL, relaxed, a bit tanner, and with seven wins in their pocket.

By Steve Saltarelli

The University of Chicago softball team returned from their spring break trip to Clermont, FL, relaxed, a bit tanner, and with seven wins in their pocket. Coming into the trip the Maroons looked to move past a forgettable 2007 season in which they finished 11–19 and failed to make the NCAA tournament. “As a team, we wanted to take what we could from last year, learn from it, and then absolutely put it behind us,” head coach Ruth Kmak said. The trip marked the beginning of softball’s 2009 campaign, with the Maroons amassing a 7–3 record after their winter quarter exams. Chicago streaked through the first seven games, winning all but one, a 6–3 loss at the hands of a tough Elmhurst squad. During that initial tear, the South Siders picked up solid victories against Southern Maine and Buffalo State, while also triumphing over both Eastern and Western Connecticut State. The smooth riding took a slight bump against Wellesley College, with the Maroons succumbing to the mercy rule after an 11–run second inning outbreak from the Blue Pride—who went on to win the shortened game by a score of 13–0. Kmak’s squad was able to bounce back, though, coming strong out of the blocks to punish Manchester College 13–5. While a tough 2–0 loss to Union College would end Chicago’s spring fling, Kmak was still happy with her team’s performance. “Coming out of the week 7–3 is a successful start, but we can, of course, never be satisfied with that,” Kmak said.One thing they can be satisfied with, however, is the play of key returners and newcomers alike. Highlighting the Maroons’ trip was the effort of first-year Sarah Neuhaus, who compiled a 4–2 mark on the trip, posting a 0.61 ERA in the process. Neuhaus also compiled 33 strikeouts against only four walks, stringing together 27.1 scoreless innings along the way. The talented rookie was also able to get the job done on offense, leading all starters in batting average and slugging percentage. “[Neuhaus] has great focus. She just comes in and gets the job done. In addition to her pitching, she’s a very exciting hitter, has good speed, and can do a lot on the base paths,” Kmak said. Adding to the cause were Chicago’s returning stars, third-year Kathleen Duffy and fourth-year Jen Jacobson. Duffy was lights-out on the mound, holding opponents to a .173 average while going 3–0 in four appearances. Duffy was also able to get it done with bat, showing patience at the plate while slugging .586 mark, a team-high on the trip.“[Duffy] is a competitor out there, offensively and defensively. We expect her to be a catalyst on offense, and produce RBIs,” Kmak said. Jacobson, batting leadoff and playing shortstop, set the table for the Maroons with a .429 on-base percentage, and scoring 11 runs to lead the team. Jacobson also displayed the patience it takes to hit leadoff, while striking out only twice on the trip. “We expect leadership out of our returners, and that’s what we got over the week,” Kmak said. If there is one area that the South Siders must improve in order to attain their goal of making the NCAA tournament, it is their defense. Chicago committed 21 errors over the 10 games, Neuhaus and Jacobson combining for 10 of them. “It’s a good start, but you want to continue to build as the season progresses. Our defense needs to improve, and that will help our pitchers if our defense can get a little bit stronger,” Kmak said.Softball will look to ride out their momentum and continue a good start when they travel to Naperville to compete in the North Central Triangular this Saturday, starting with a matchup against Calvin College at 11 a.m.