After hard hop, softball rolls on with five straight wins

By Sean Ahmed

A late-season losing streak woke up softball in a hurry.

The 12th-ranked Maroons (24-7) swept a set of doubleheaders, extending their current winning streak to five and giving the team momentum going into a tough stretch to close out the season. Third-year third baseman Kayti Fuhr extended her hitting streak to five games, picking up six hits yesterday in 6-2 and 4-3 wins over Wisconsin-Whitewater (13-17). Strong pitching performances made the difference in Sunday’s games against Lawrence (15-14), as second-year Petra Wade followed third-year Hannah Roberts’ complete-game shutout with a one-hitter of her own.

Continuing the turnaround will be essential to softball’s chances of making playoffs for the fifth year of the last six.

“The biggest difference was realizing that, if we didn’t turn it around, our chances for postseason would not be good, and post season is what I live for,” Fuhr said. “I think we have all stepped up and showed a lot of heart by coming back from such a streak of losses.”

Fuhr started off the scoring Sunday afternoon in Chicago’s final regular-season home date, leading off the game with a double to left. Third-year catcher Randi Leppla singled her to third, and Fuhr scored as Leppla was caught stealing at second.

That was the first of three one-run innings for the Maroons in the opener. Roberts helped her own cause, scoring on a single to left from third-year designated hitter Kate Rhodes, and fourth-year second baseman Julie Wiorkowski knocked in a sixth-inning run with a single to center.

It was more than enough for Roberts (15-3, 0.41), who struck out 10 hitters over seven innings of 4-hit work to finish the 3-0 victory.

Wade (9-2, 2.05) was also able to dominate, striking out six and allowing only one unearned run for a complete-game 4-1 victory. Rhodes again provided all the necessary support at the plate, hitting a one-out, bases-loaded single through the right side to score second-year shortstop Jessica Mayhew (1-2, 1 2B, 1 R, 1 RBI) and first-year left fielder Dominique Marshall (2-2, 1 R).

“Kate is continuing to be awesome in the DH spot, always coming through with clutch hits,” Fuhr said.

Wiorkowski went one-for-four and rounded out senior day with the Maroons’ final RBI, scoring Fuhr.

That consistent offensive attack carried over to yesterday’s first game, as the Maroons made up Saturday’s rained-out doubleheader. Chicago scored in five of the first six innings, allowing the team to give Roberts (5.0 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 6 K) an early night and second-year lefty reliever Lauren Hula two innings.

Marshall, Fuhr, and third-year first baseman Rachel Cohen combined for the team’s five RBI. Cohen’s first-inning RBI single scored Fuhr to put Chicago up 1-0. After Whitewater catcher Shramek hit an RBI double to knot things up at one, Fuhr responded with an RBI double of her own—her third two-bagger in as many games—and later scored on an error by the first baseman to put the Maroons up for good. Marshall’s third-inning homer was her second of the season, boosting her team-leading slugging percentage to .488.

That run support dried up in the second game, as the Maroons left nine runners on base in the course of the extra-inning win.

Wade struggled early, giving up two runs with two outs in the first, but soon settled down after, allowing only one more unearned run over the rest of her outing. She recorded seven strikeouts over five-and-two-thirds innings before being lifted for Roberts with a runner on third (reached on Mayhew’s second error) in the sixth. Roberts induced a groundout to shortstop and went on to retire the next nine batters she faced for a perfect three-and-a-third innings and her 15th win.

“Petra has really been pitching well,” Fuhr said. “Even though Hannah came in for the last couple of innings in today’s game, Petra pitched a good game. She was battling with the umpire the whole game for calls, but she never stopped fighting.”

Though Chicago batters earned seven hits and nine walks over Warhawks pitcher Brunner’s nine innings, they failed to plate more than half of them in the 4-3 win. Fuhr again made the difference, going three-for-four but not scoring a run until Brunner’s wild pitch to provide the winning margin.

Softball now has only two road doubleheaders remaining, but both are critical to the team’s playoff push. The team plans to travel to Hope (25-7) today, though anticipated rain may drown that rematch out. The Maroons’ 6-2 loss to the Flying Dutchmen, ranked as high as 24th on the season, on April 16 started the team’s only slide of the season. The team closes out the regular season against first-ranked Wash U (41-1) Saturday, meeting halfway at Illinois Wesleyan.

“The momentum will definitely help us: The past five games have been really fun,” Fuhr said. “I definitely think we can take all four of these next games.”