SPORTS

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April 23, 2004

Softball anticipates playoff race

Entering the final week of their season, the 10th-ranked University of Chicago women's softball team appeared a virtual lock for the postseason tournament.

The Maroons lost five of their last eight games, however, including four straight to Hope, Washington University, Fontbonne, and Maryville in the Illinois Wesleyan Tournament last weekend. Chicago's fate now lies in the hands of the tournament selection committee.

The Maroons finish the season with an overall record of 26-9. Just nine games ago, Chicago was 23-3.

On Saturday, Chicago headed to Bloomington, Illinois for the important tournament. In the first game, the Maroons lost a tight game with Hope 5-3 after two home runs by the Flying Dutch's Kelly Kraft. First-year Petra Wade picked up the loss, dropping her season record to 6-3.

In the nightcap, the Maroons dropped a tough 1-0 decision to third ranked Wash. U after a fifth-inning miscue by Chicago. The Titans' unearned run was the first allowed by second-year pitcher Hannah Roberts in 62.1 innings, the fifth-longest scoreless streak in Division III history.

Sunday proved the most heartbreaking day of the entire season for the Maroons, as they lost two 1-0 extra-inning decisions. In the first game, Fontbonne scored the only run of the contest on a two-out single in the top of the eighth inning. Roberts had gotten two quick outs, but the runner on second, who was placed there to start the extra inning according to tournament rules, scored on the hit. The loss dropped Roberts to 14-3, despite giving up only four hits and no earned runs in seven and two-thirds innings.

Next, the Maroons faced Maryville and lost their third straight 1-0 game, this time in the top of the ninth inning. Roberts, pitching in her second game of the day, struck out a season-high 17 batters and allowed no earned runs in nine innings of work.

The missed opportunities, particularly on offense, of that Sunday may prove to be the deciding factor in fate of the Maroons' season.

Tuesday, Chicago traveled to Aurora for a doubleheader, which they split with a 5-3 win and then a 1-0 loss. The first game gave Roberts her 15th win of the season and dropped her season ERA to 0.11. In that game, third-year Annie Yaniga, second-year Rachael Cohen, and Roberts were all 2-4 with an RBI.

Chicago dropped the second game in an extra-innings battle, its fourth 1-0 loss in five games. In the top of the ninth, Wade gave up the game's only run on a one-out RBI single.

On Thursday, the Maroons finished their season at home in a doubleheader against North Park and won both games 2-1. Roberts finished the season with her 16th win. She gave up only her third earned run of the year on a solo shot in the sixth.

Chicago finally won an extra-inning thriller in their final regular season game. First-year outfielder Laurin Fabry kept the Maroons alive with a key catch nearing the wall with runners on second and third in the top of the eighth that could have broken the game open. She eventually ended the game with a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the 11th, scoring Roberts.

"Our team realized the importance of winning the two games today. That helped us work hard for our pitchers, who have been performing so well this season," Fabry said. "The whole team just wanted to win our second game for Petra."

Roberts was incredible the whole season, amassing a 16-4 record and an ERA of 0.15. She improved virtually all of her statistics after her All-American season last year.

Katie Fuhr lead the Maroons with a .344 batting average on the season, and Yaniga was the RBI leader with 28.

The Maroons struggled to put their offense together all season, particularly in the last third of the season, as demonstrated by the abundance of low scoring extra-inning games. Although they broke open a few games with the bats, too many drives ended without a run scored because of inconsistency in the lineup.

Chicago still has hope, however, for the NCAA postseason. They beat several quality teams, matched the school's record for victories at 26, and were ranked 10th in the nation before their season-ending slide. All the Maroons can do now is wait for the NCAA's decision, which will come on Monday, May 3.

"The reason we've gotten where we have in the season is because we have such great team chemistry," second-year catcher Randi Leppla said. "The next week of practice will help us focus on our fundamentals, and we should be ready to go into regionals."