The University of Chicago women's softball team climbed to #12 in the national rankings, thanks to a strong week, which included wins against MacMurray College, North Central University, and Dominican University. The team split at Wheaton on Thursday, a disappointing result against a weak opponent.
Despite that unexpected loss, the Maroons improved to 23-4 and remain in excellent position for a postseason run deep into the NCAA tournament.
On Saturday, the Maroons first faced MacMurray College and prevailed 1-0 thanks to a two-out rally that culminated with second-year pitcher Hannah Roberts driving in the winning run in the bottom of the ninth inning. Roberts's hit followed back-to-back two-out singles by second-year third baseman Katyi Fuhr and third-year catcher Annie Yaniga. With the win, Roberts improved her season record to 12-1.
In the second game, against North Central College, Chicago managed to eek out another victory in extra innings, thanks to an eighth-inning single by second-year first baseman Rachael Cohen, who eventually scored the winning run. In that game, first-year pitcher Petra Wade improved her season record to 5-1, allowing one run on just five hits over the complete game.
On Tuesday, Chicago swept a doubleheader against Dominican University, winning the games by scores of 5-1 and 8-1. It took 10 innings for the Maroons to finally finish off Dominican in the first game. Yaniga's two-out RBI single spurred a four run outburst that propelled Chicago to their 11th win in 12 games. Roberts pitched the first five innings before reentering in the ninth for first-year reliever Lauren Hula. She held Dominican scoreless and struck out 11 batters for her 13th win of the year.
The win gave head coach Ruth Kmak her 100th victory as head coach of the Maroons. She is currently 102-63 in five years of coaching Chicago.
In the second game, Yaniga went 2-3, including a triple in the top of the seventh inning. With that hit, Yaniga set a new school record for triples in a season with six.
Wade picked up her sixth victory of the year, scattering three hits and one walk.
While the team generally performed well, it took a while for the offense to get going in both games. The lineup has been inconsistent over the year, and the team has often had to rely on its defense and pitching to keep games in hand.
Against Wheaton on Thursday, that same problem cropped up again, costing the team one of the games.
The first game, however, was not about to be lost, as Roberts continued her incredible scoreless inning streak with five solid innings. She struck out 10 batters for her fourth straight game with double digit strikeouts. She has now thrown 58.1 consecutive shutout innings and lowered her season ERA to 0.15. Roberts has pitched at an unfathomable level for much of the season.
Hula relieved Roberts for the two-inning save, and she showed dominant stuff with strikeouts of all six batters she faced. Chicago scored their only three runs of the game in the top of the second inning. Fourth-year rightfielder Ariana Gadd hit an RBI double to lead the charge.
In the second game, the Maroon offense could never quite get going, and a defensive lapse ended up costing the team the game. The game was tied at two into the bottom of the sixth when Chicago made three consecutive errors with two outs. Wheaton scored the eventual game-winning run on second-year catcher Randi Leppla's throwing error. The team made five errors on the game. The bats were unable to drive in a runner from second in the top of the seventh.
Wade (6-2) suffered the loss despite only allowing two earned runs in six innings. She added an RBI single at the plate as well.
Because of their performance this week, Chicago moved up to the 12th spot in the national rankings, their highest of the entire season. The Maroons entered the year as the preseason 16th ranked team and were ranked 21st in the last poll of the National Fastpitch Coaches Association.
They have eight games remaining this year and face third-ranked Washington University of St. Louis on Saturday in their biggest test of the year.