Streak ends after big wins for softball

By Tim Murphy

After tearing through their early-season schedule in Florida, softball hoped to stay hot upon their return to Hyde Park. They got their wish, as the Maroons held their own against a tough regional foe to continue their impressive start.

Chicago (11–3) split a doubleheader with North Central (12–4) Friday, taking the first game 4–1 before falling 9–0 in the second. Third-year ace Petra Wade (10–1, 1.20), the pitcher of record in all but one of the squad’s victories this spring, went the distance to carry the Maroons once more in their home opener. Fourth-year righty Courtney Uchtyil (1–1, 3.63) took the loss in the capper.

The loss in the second game ended an impressive seven-game winning streak for the home team, during which they outscored their opponents 39–8.

“Our bats really came around throughout the lineup,” said head coach Ruth Kmak of the streak that began March 23 against Smith. “Our execution was very good one through nine in the order, and we had a total team offense.”

While the Maroons have been on a power surge of late, Friday’s opener was a classic pitcher’s duel. With Wade squaring off against third-year pitcher Kelly Furr (3–3), both teams struggled to convert offensively. Chicago and North Central combined to strand a total of 13 runners on the day.

The home team got into a jam with two out in the top of the first. A walk worked by third-year third baseman Jenna Congdon and a double earned by fourth-year first baseman Kristen Jarosik gave North Central a pair of runners in scoring position. Wade recovered to strike out second-year designated hitter/pitcher Ashley Crettol, escaping unscathed.

After a brief respite of silence at the plate, Chicago began to assert itself in the bottom half of the second. Leading things off, second-year left fielder Dominique Marshall ripped her second homer of the season to put the Maroons up 1–0. Chicago kept the pressure on, notching another run on an RBI single to centerfield off the bat of second-year right fielder Cassie Wierenga.

North Central struck back in their next at-bat with a solo shot from fourth-year second baseman Stacey Smith. With the home run perhaps serving as a wake-up call, Wade prevented any further damage, retiring the next three batters with ease and shutting down the Cardinal for the remainder of the game. The Batavia, Illinois native finished the game with seven strikeouts and conceded only six hits and a walk.

“She’s thrown great for us all year,” Kmak said. “She’s mentally tough, and she’s a workhorse. He knew we were going to use her a lot and had his hitters oftentimes take two strikes to try to wear her out.”

The Maroons’ added insurance runs in the third and fourth innings to give their hurler a lead to work with. An RBI double from Fuhr plated third-year shortstop Jess Mayhew with one out in the third. An inning later Wade, running for her designated hitter fourth-year Kate Rhodes after a walk, took second on a wild pitch and scored on an error by Congdon.

“Our strong bats were crucial,” Wade said. “I love pitching when I have a few runs to work with on my end. It makes me a lot less nervous when I have a cushion.”

The squad’s confidence in its abilities extends to the defense as well.

“ is gonna battle. She feels the strength of the team behind her,” Kmak said. “If she slips on a pitch and grooves it, she feels that the defense will stand behind her.”

If the opener was a display of everything that has gone well so far for the Maroons, the second game served to show that there is still room for improvement. With only one win to go with two losses, the pitchers behind Wade have shown promise but have yet to fully assert themselves.

Facing off against North Central ace third-year Lori Potacki (7–1), Chicago was held to just three hits, with only one baserunner advancing as far as third. The Cardinal, meanwhile, erupted, scoring runs in every inning but the fifth to ice the game.

Fourth-year rookie Courtney Uchytil made the start for the home team, but lasted only two and a third innings before being relieved by Wade. The starter, however, could not repeat her stellar performance from earlier in the day. As her opponents grew more comfortable in the batter’s box, Wade struggled, allowing three runs in two and two thirds innings. Third-year Lauren Hula, who has been battling a herniated disc all season, replaced Wade and conceded two runs, one of which was earned, in one inning of work. The Maroons were hurt in the game by three errors that allowed two unearned runs.

“Courtney’s got a great work ethic,” Kmak said. “She’s just got a real positive attitude.”

“If we’re going to win, we need to win as a team. Our pitch selection wasn’t great. We gave them second chances, but we learned a lot. There’s so much we gained from it as far as what we can work on.”

With Monday’s doubleheader against Hope postponed due to field conditions, the Maroons have a rare week off in between contests. Chicago will play two games in four days at the Illinois Wesleyan invite in Bloomington. After demonstrating their pitching potential and offensive clout and for nearly a month, the Maroons were reminded of their weaknesses Friday. If the team can stay focused defensively, and be patient at the plate, another long win streak is not out of the question.