Softball slides further after third sweep

By Kate Fratar

Two different Chicago softball teams hosted North Central at Stagg Sunday. The Maroons of the first game played a crisp defense and pushed extra innings, while the Maroons in the nightcap committed five errors and couldn’t rebound from a chaotic start.

Fighting in a tight pitchers’ duel, Chicago (9–15) dropped a close 3–2 decision in the eighth to start the twin bill with the Cardinals (21–7). With rookie Christy Corfias on the mound for the next game, the South Siders fell to an early 8–0 that they couldn’t come all the way back from, even as they held North Central scoreless through the last four innings.

“I think we came out stronger defensively in the first game, and we were just off balance for that first inning of the second game,” fourth-year catcher Vanessa Pineros said.

The Maroons got on the board early against the Cardinals, thanks to the hot bat of third-year shortstop Jen Jacobson, who lined a double to lead off the bottom of the first against second-year starting pitcher Jenna Prieto. The ace of the Cardinals’ bullpen, Prieto leads her team with an 11–2 record and a 1.45 ERA. Between Jacobson’s two-bagger and a sacrifice fly by second-year third baseman Lauren White, though, Chicago took a 1–0 lead.

Jacobson’s run was the only run for the Maroons until the bottom of the seventh. Second-year starting pitcher Kathleen Duffy (4–6, 4.63 ERA), backed by solid defense, made it work, keeping North Central off the board for its first three at-bats. Duffy allowed just one hit and gave up one walk in those three innings of work, while an infield double play helped hold back a Cardinals offense hitting .301 on the season.

A two-out rally in the fourth put the visitors in the driver’s seat of a one-run game. The Cardinals struck for two, scoring on a RBI double and an illegal pitch by Duffy for a 2–1 advantage. Chicago caught up three innings later, tying things up with two outs in the seventh.

“I think the first game we were consistent on defense and offense the whole time,” Jacobson said. “Something felt a little off .”

Putting in first-year Lori Knapp to pinch hit for classmate Caitlin Romano, Knapp got things going with a single before Romano reentered the game as her runner. Jacobson followed with another single, her third hit of the game, to get Romano in scoring position. An error by first-year shortstop Laura Whitfield on a ball hit by Pineros allowed Romano to score and sent her team into extra innings when it was an out away from a win.

A RBI single by second-year designated hitter Kelli Loeffel gave North Central a 3–2 edge and forced Chicago to come up with the tying and go-ahead run its next at-bat. Pineros picked Loeffel off at first for the third out, nipping the Cardinals’ chances of adding to their lead.

Batting in the eighth, the Maroons had the bases loaded with Duffy on third ready to make her move for home. Prieto issued an intentional walk to fourth-year first baseman Cassie Wierenga to get to Romano. After fouling off a couple of pitches, Romano struck out swinging, ending the first game with North Central hanging on for the 3–2 win.

The game started unraveling quickly for Chicago in the next game, with the defense committing three of its five errors in the first two innings. The Cardinals picked up seven runs and sent Corfias (2–3, 5.93) back to the dugout after making it through 2 1/3 innings, where she surrendered 4fourearned runs on six hits. White came in for long relief, but North Central collected two more runs against her to cap off a five-run inning for a 7–0 lead.

“Sometimes her wind-up can be construed as illegal, but she’s been doing a good job of keeping her foot on the mound,” Jacobson. “Our team needed to push in one more run for her so that it wouldn’t matter.”

Another run in the third put the Maroons down by eight, and they mustered up their only offense in response. Once again, Jacobson was critical, belting a two-run homer. Her first shot of the season, the blast extended her hitting streak to 19 games. The lefty is hitting .551 this spring, with a slugging percentage of .710 after starting all of Chicago’s 22 games. A natural right-hander, Jacobson switched to the left-hand side of the plate at 14, and college marked the first time that she could swing away instead of trying to pull off the slap.

“I think this year I’m really seeing the ball,” Jacobson said.

“Jen has a great eye and great hand-eye coordination. She’s just been tearing it up all season,” Pineros said. “She’s really been jump-starting our offense.”

Jacobson’s dinger was too little too late for the Maroons, who got swept in a doubleheader for the third time this year.

Chicago is back at Stagg today for its final home outing. The Phoenix Phanatics will be at the field cooking for a free BBQ as the Maroons take on Lake Forest (14–10).

“They’re not going to give us any runs,” said Pineros of the Foresters. “But we can hit their pitching.”