Softball returns to NCAA tourney

By John Dwyer

On Monday, the University of Chicago softball team (26-9) was selected for the NCAA Division III tournament. The Maroons face Edgewood College (22-16) at 12 p.m. on Friday in their first tournament game.

The Maroons are approaching the tournament with a do or die mentality. “In a tournament like this, the key is to take one game at a time and play like there is no tomorrow,” head coach Ruth Kmak said. “We have to have the mentality of working as hard as we can to win each individual game. The important thing about the first game versus Edgewood is trying not to look past them to Augustana.”

Selected as one of eight teams that did not automatically qualify through a conference, Chicago enters a six-team, double-elimination regional taking place at Alma College in Michigan. Seeded third in the region, the Maroons will face second seeded Augustana College on Friday at 4 p.m. should they win their first game. Augustana (34-7) has a first-round bye along with first-seeded Alma (35-6).

If Chicago loses its first game, it will play the loser of fourth-seeded Lake Forest College (26-11) and fifth-seeded Defiance College (22-17-1) in their second game on Saturday at 10 a.m.

Despite the third ranking, the Maroons are confident in their chances, in large part because of second-year pitcher Hannah Roberts, who was named to the All-Great Lakes Region Team on Thursday. Roberts has been dominant on the way to a Division III-leading 0.15 ERA this season and a 16-4 record.

The pitching staff has been bolstered by the additions of first-year hurlers Petra Wade and Lauren Hula. The Maroons have a 0.64 team ERA, which is second in the nation only to 32-9 Rutgers-Camden, who have a 0.62 mark.

The Maroons, however, struggled offensively in the second half of the season, something the team is clearly aware of. “We’re going with what got us this far. Hitting is extremely mental and we tend to hit or not hit as a team. Once one person gets a hit, we tend to hit in clusters,” Kmak said. “These games will be close, so we have emphasized live hitting and bunting at practice over the past couple weeks in order to help our hitters gain confidence going into the tournament where we’ll face a variety of pitching styles.”

Chicago is making its fourth-ever appearance in the Division III tournament and its third in four years under Kmak. The Maroons advanced to the regional finals a year ago but lost to Illinois Wesleyan in extra innings.

The Maroons enter the tournament with high hopes, and their eyes are set upon a national championship.

“We can go all the way if we play at our best level each game offensively and defensively,” Kmak said. “We’ve got great pitching and solid hitting and defense. We’ve got to take one game at a time and leave our best effort on the field each time.”