Spring success has softball thinking repeat

By Chris Boots

After posting an impressive 8-–2 mark against tournament-caliber competition during their spring break trip, softball has every reason to feel confident about the 2007 season. Chicago can boast of a solid cluster of veterans at key positions and a host of talented rookies as it looks for a repeat of last year’s playoff run.

The squad kicked off the year in Florida and on a high note, recording five straight wins before getting slapped with its first loss against Hamline 5–3 on March 20 (7–3, 1–1 MIAC). Quickly rebounding with four more victories, the Maroons went home on a down note after taking their second defeat of the trip, a close 10–9 decision against Albright (4–13, 0–2 MAC) March 23 .

While the whole week in Florida was a sign of good things to come, a 13–1 trouncing of New Paltz (4–8) showed Chicago at its best during the vacation action on March 23. The squad showed off flawless glovework in their errorless defense and displayed the intimidating depth of this year’s batting order as nine different Maroons crossed the plate.

“Our entire line-up is contributing offensively. Every one of our hitters can be dangerous,” head coach Ruth Kmak said.

That kind of run support will go a long way with fourth-year pitcher and returning captain Petra Wade (see Spotlight) back on the mound. The ace pitched all seven innings against New Paltz and allowed seven hits to fly home with a 5–1 record with a 1.57 ERA mark.

The rookies also showed a glimpse of just how much they’ll contribute to the team against the Hawks. Three RBI from first-year Lauren White and one more from classmate Jill Lenson added to Chicago’s offensive explosion.

Nearly every other spring break game reinforced this theme of veterans anchoring the team while newcomers stepped up with more than their fair share of production. First-year pitcher Kathleen Duffy shared the trip’s offensive crown with third-year lead-off batter and catcher Vanessa Pineros. Each batted .552 over 10 games and combined for 17 RBI.

“If you look at our statistics, an interesting one to note is runs batted in. They are spread out throughout the line-up,” Kmak said. “Different parts of the lineup are all capable of starting and continuing a run-scoring rally. Our offense can be exciting to watch and is balanced overall.”

With these successes behind them, Chicago has already made its two deadliest weapons apparent: a deep offensive lineup and a solid bullpen.

On the mound, Wade’s importance to the team goes without saying, and White’s eight K, shutout debut against Wisconsin-Superior March 18 means that Wade can get more rest than last season.

“Our pitching has been solid, with all four pitchers contributing,” Kmak said.

Other changes this season include a revitalized infield led by experienced fourth-year shortstop Jessica Mayhew and filled out almost entirely by the freshmen class. It will be up to this new crew to match a successful 20–15 run that only ended on the third day of the NCAA tournament. The strength and early success of this year’s team can only signal that this squad is up to the task and that the stock of Chicago softball is on the rise.

“Hopefully, we’ll continue as we have started,” Kmak said. “We consistently have one of the top in-region schedules, so our opponents will only get tougher. We have to improve every day in all facets of our game in order to continue to do well.”

Spotlight on Petra Wade

Returning as a captain for the second year in a row, Wade looks to finish her career at Chicago as one of the program’s greatest players of all time. Making a name for herself with a program record-tying 19 wins last season, Wade carried the squad into the postseason. Already nearing the top of most of the pitching record lists, Wade needs  just eight more victories to make herself Chicago’s winningest pitcher of all time. Also look to Wade, a solid hitter, to further establish herself on offense as the season unfolds.