Wierenga extra-special in softball split

By Wayne

After watching balls fly over the fences early in the season, softball bats have gone quiet in recent weeks. Looking for a return to form in Michigan, the Maroons traveled to Hope for a day-night doubleheader and found some late-inning spark but few answers to its offensive struggles.

The 19th-ranked Maroons (17–7) split their third straight doubleheader match Tuesday against the Flying Dutch (18–7) to seize the first game 5–2 but lose the evening match 2–3. The high-octane offense characteristic of the squad early in the season was absent once again on Tuesday. A low-scoring, defense-oriented match set the tone for the games, as the Maroons allowed a total of only five scored runs and one error spanning the two games.

Getting off to a shaky start in the opener, the Maroons allowed two Hope baserunners to cross the plate off of three hits and a steal in the first three innings. Second-year third baseman Jen Jacobson and fourth-year righty Petra Wade (10–5, 2.39) later returned the favor with a run off of a triple and an opponent error in the fourth, followed by a game-tying run on a fielder’s choice. With both hurlers clamping down from the mound, the game progressed into extra innings with no further damage to the scoreboard.

Hitless since the fifth inning, Chicago began turning things around entering the ninth. Two walks to third-year outfielder Dominique Marshall and fourth-year centerfielder Nancy Bugajski set the stage for a big finish. Third-year first baseman Cassie Wierenga proceeded to send one into the stands to lift the Maroons to a 5–2 victory.

Despite the low score in the opener, the Maroons’ bats made the most of their circumstances to come up big. Jacobsen went one-for-five but got the squad back into the game by triggering the fourth-inning rally. Wade continued her stellar spring from the circle, allowing only two runs while going the distance.

“The first game was a great display of what our team is capable of,” Wade said. “Our defense was solid when Hope was getting a piece of me, and when we were down by two, we got them back.”

The second game was a different story for the Maroons. Falling behind early once again, Chicago allowed two Hope runs in the first off of a series of hits, stolen bases, and walks. After third-year catcher Vanessa Pineros managed to tie the game with a two-run double in the top of the third, Hope responded quickly with a run of its own in its next at bat for the 3–2 lead. The game remained scoreless afterward, as the Flying Dutch tightened its defense to walk away with the evening match.

Facing an easier and slower pitcher in the nightcap, Chicago failed to capitalize on many opportunities to salvage the game, leaving seven runners on base.

“After the first win, we were disappointed not to take the second,” said Pineros, who is batting a team-high .427 with 18 RBIs. “Losing by one run was especially frustrating because we had so many chances to get that run and just couldn’t push it across against the slow pitcher.”

Even after letting a close game slip by them on Tuesday, the team remains confident about their chances for the remainder of the season.

“We really need to secure a spot in regionals,” Jacobson said. “Our defense will continue to get the outs for our pitchers, and our offense will keep working hard to score runs and keep us ahead every game.”