Opponents, fences can’t contain softball in bounce-back weekend

By Joe Katz

Of all the Bull Durham clichés that float around the diamond every spring, “it’s a long season” may well be the most repeated. Every time a team endures some disheartening defeat, that particular aphorism pops out like line drives from the mitt of a careless outfielder. Yet it seems that softball has particularly taken this adage to heart.

After dropping both ends of a doubleheader for the first time this season, the Maroons (14–4) roared back to wipe out 17th-ranked Illinois Wesleyan (10–4) 5–1, 2–0 at Stagg Saturday and then rode an 11-run fifth inning in the front end at Kalamazoo (3–12) en route to a 16–1, 9–1 Sunday sweep.

Fourth-year shortstop Jessica Mayhew continued to hit the cover off the ball, going 5-for-10 with seven RBIs and two home runs on the weekend. She did well to support the pitching staff, who continued to help themselves as first-year pitcher/right fielder Kathleen Duffy contributed two homers and a win (2–0, 3.46 ERA) and fourth-year ace Petra Wade (8–2, 2.30 ERA) bounced back for two Ws and two ribbies.

Starting the weekend against a brutal Titans squad, the Maroons looked to take out a team that will almost certainly join them in contention for a playoff bid. Despite the disconcerting early season defeats, there were no signs of shakiness on Chicago’s part.

“Sweeping Illinois Wesleyan is important for us, as it is two in-region wins, and it was very important for us to come back strong after the games versus Wheaton,” head coach Ruth Kmak said. “We just showed up with a very competitive attitude for Wesleyan. It showed in our defense, it showed in the tenacity of our pitchers, and it showed in our aggressiveness at the plate and on the bases.”

Facing a team that allowed fewer than 1.5 earned runs per nine innings entering the day, Chicago showed little sign of slowing down from an offensive pace that is fast approaching historic proportions. Duffy sent an offering by fourth-year righty Lauren Hyland (6-2, 2.00) to dead center to knock in three runs with two outs in the first. Wade had been living dangerously, giving up one run on a hit-by-pitch, a single, and back-to-back walks in the first, but with room to work, she calmed down and allowed only two more base runners the rest of the way.

The final margin of victory was bumped up to four after Mayhew bopped a two-run homer, a carbon copy of Duffy’s shot. The shortstop would have an even bigger impact in the capper. With the Maroons clinging to a razor-thin margin after fourth-year center fielder Nancy Bugajski’s RBI single to right, Mayhew provided some much-needed insurance to begin the next frame. She pounded her third dinger of both the year and her career to right center to give Chicago a 2–0 lead. Despite hitting eighth in the lineup, the senior is batting .360 and slugging .640 with 12 RBI.

“Jess has always been an amazing player. It has shown defensively at shortstop, and this year she is finally coming into her own as a hitter,” Kmak said. “We are very excited for what Jess brings to our lineup every day.”

“Softball can be a very mental game, so it’s easy to get down and stay down, and I’ve experienced that in the past four years,” Mayhew said. “I guess I’ve just tried to go up to the plate with a clear head, taken a deep breath and just relaxed with my swing. I’ve found out that the bat kind of takes care of the rest.”

Suiting up the next day after the long bus ride to Kalamazoo, the Maroons were not expected to face quite as much of a challenge from the Hornets. Chicago jumped ahead early, putting one on the board with a Marshall RBI double in the first and three more in the third when Wade and Lenson both came through with runners on base against first-year righty Heidi Fetzner (1–6, 5.47).

Faced with a four-run deficit heading into the fifth, the wheels didn’t just fall off the cart for Kalamazoo—they virtually disintegrated. In the end, 17 Maroons made it to the plate, scoring 11 runs on 8 hits, four errors, two walks, two stolen bases, and three wild pitches against second-year righty Michelle Brittain. Chicago had not produced so much in a single frame since recording a 12-run inning against Lasell on March 21, 2001. Wade proved to be the beneficiary, earning the win and getting an inning of relief work from Duffy.

The hosts weren’t quite as shaky in the second game, but Fetzner got roughed up again for five runs in five innings of work, allowing homers to Duffy (her team-leading fourth of the year) and second-year DH Christina Ricordati and a two-run double to Mayhew. Her reliever, fourth-year righty Amelia Barker-King, was not much better, giving up four runs in one inning, including two on a Marshall longball.

Duffy earned the complete-game victory, giving up one run on six hits and a walk in six innings. The return to form by the pitching staff was the biggest difference between the brief bump in the road against Wheaton and the current four-game winning streak. Wade, Hula, and Duffy combined to hold opponents to 3 earned runs on 16 hits and 5 walks over 23 innings, a vast improvement over the 12 earned given up on 15 hits and 7 walks over 14 on Thursday.

“Our pitching staff has been able to relax a little bit since our offense has been so productive, but we have an excellent staff, and they have shown how they can come through in our games this weekend,” Kmak said.