Whitewater overwhelms softball’s young pitching

By Audrey Henkels

[img id=”80463″ align=”alignleft”] Carrying over a rivalry from Little League to D-III athletics, members of the softball squad hosted their old childhood teammates and opponents at Stagg.

Filling its lineup with its top sluggers against Chicago’s young pitching staff, UW–Whitewater (13–3) won both games Wednesday. The Warhawks seized the doubleheader opener 7–6 with a late surge and handed the Maroons a more dramatic loss, a 12–4 pounding, in the nightcap.

With the sweep, Whitewater emerged with the upper hand in the regional clash and dropped Chicago to 7–11 on the season.

“There’s always some natural competitiveness between the two teams,” head coach Ruth Kmak said. “Some of the players on the two teams knew each other and grew up playing together.”

Jumping out to an early lead, the Maroons scored all six of their runs in the first two innings. Rookie right fielder Jennifer Simile capped off a five-run outburst in the team’s first time up with her first career homer, a three-run bomb off of fourth-year starting pitcher Jessie Harmeyer (2–1, 3.82 ERA).

The Maroons stayed in the lead for most of the game, but the Warhawks fought their way back in the sixth inning. Taking advantage of two Chicago errors, Whitewater scored four runs on just two hits and evened things up at 6–6.

Going for the come-from-behind win, the Warhawks added one more in the top of the seventh with an RBI single by second-year left fielder Lauren Cruz. Batting fifth in the lineup, Cruz led Whitewater’s offense, collecting two RBI, two hits, and crossing the plate twice.

“They brought in their good hitting team, and we weren’t able to answer in the bottom of the seventh,” Kmak explained.

Before the Warhawks struck late in the game, second-year starting pitcher Kathleen Duffy (3–4, 5.21 ERA) did a good job of putting down a Whitewater squad that’s hitting .363 this spring. She tossed her fifth complete game of the year out of seven starts, holding the opposing batters to two runs on three hits through the first five innings.

Duffy also helped her own cause on the mound, going 1–3 at the plate with a pair of RBI and also scoring a run. Her bat stayed hot in the second game, where she roped two more hits and added another RBI on the day. It wasn’t enough to keep the Maroons close to Whitewater, though.

Although UW–Whitewater initially snapped up a 3­–0 lead, Chicago quickly closed the gap, with key hits by third-year shortstop Jennifer Jacobson, Duffy, and two second-years, starting pitcher Lauren White and second baseman Jillian Lenson. Jacobson’s single to lead off the rally in the bottom of the first extended her hitting streak to 13 games, tying the record for the longest stretch by a Chicago player since 2004.

“Initially losing the lead, [Whitewater] jumping out to a three-run lead, and then us bouncing back with three runs showed our good team character,” Kmak said.

The hit brigade faded for Chicago, with Simile’s sac fly to fight in the third bringing in the Maroons’ final run of the game. Whitewater continued to burn White (3–5, 7.54), racking up eight earned runs on 12 hits. Four Warhawks went yard against White, one a grand slam by first-year third baseman Lauren Rankins to wrap up a six-run fourth.

First-year Christy Corfias relieved White with two outs in the fourth and pitched 1.1 innings without giving up a hit or a walk to Whitewater. But the damage had been done and the final score of 12–4 in the second game didn’t reflect its closeness in the beginning.

“UW–Whitewater is always a good hitting team,” Kmak said. “But I thought our pitchers threw very well, all three of them.”

The three-woman pitching staff of Duffy, White, and Corfias will have its work cut out all year. Chicago has leaned on veteran hurlers for the past three seasons, and a certain amount of growing pains is to be expected as Duffy and White in particular get used to throwing more and more innings.

With the Warhawks’ eight-run lead after five innings of play, the mercy rule went into effect, ending the game just as light was running out.

Looking to put the home sweep behind them, the Maroons will hit the road for a jam-packed weekend against teams they’ve yet to see this season. They’ll take on Hope, Calvin, UW–Stout, Fontbonne, and Wash U at the Illinois Wesleyan Tournament in Bloomington.

“We’re looking forward to playing—weather permitting,” said Kmak. “Hopefully we’ll be able to get the games in.

“We’ll be trying to get into a winning streak,” she continued. “We just need to win one game, and then we can get on a roll.”