April 22, 2005

Softball finds way out of Forest, steals comeback win

After knocking off 15 straight wins and earning a 12th-place national ranking, softball has looked human over the team's last seven games. But in yesterday's nightcap, the Maroons finally righted the ship, scoring two runs in the top of the seventh to overcome a one-run deficit at Lake Forest and snap a six-game losing streak.

The Maroons (20-7) dropped three out of four games this past week, scoring only one run over the three losses and wasting solid pitching performances. Their surprising funk seemed to be nearing its end with a big three-run first inning against the Foresters (16-13-1).

Lake Forest fought back, taking a 5-4 lead off of two solo homers by Condon in the second and fourth and a two-run shot by Wegner in the fifth off of Chicago second-year righty Petra Wade. That margin carried into the top of the seventh when the Maroons' lineup again showed a pulse. Third-year third baseman Kayti Fuhr singled to lead off, and Chicago got a little help when the Foresters tried—and failed—to get Fuhr out in a pickle between second and third on first-year catcher Vanessa Pineros's bunt. After Wade laid down a bunt of her own to put runners on second and third, third-year first baseman Rachel Cohen and first-year left fielder Dominique Marshall broke the trend of silent bats in the late innings, knocking Fuhr and Pineros home.

The Maroons ended up leaving two runners on base that inning, but Wade shut down the Foresters to close out the game.

The first game didn't feature quite enough clutch play as third-year Hannah Roberts—throwing a no-hitter up to the ninth—relented a little, letting go of a 1-0 extra-inning lead.

After eight innings of scoreless ball, second-year right fielder Nancy Bugajski singled and advanced to second on an error in left. Second-year shortstop Jess Mayhew followed with an RBI single before being thrown out in a pickle near first base. Despite two more errors that put runners at second and third with two outs, the Maroons failed to score.

Roberts had held the Foresters to no hits with 10 strikeouts over eight innings, but led off the inning hitting second-year Stacey Nadelhoffer with a pitch. She stole second, and was joined on the base paths after a single. After Roberts recorded two strikeouts, she served up a two-run double to second-year Erin Watts beyond the reach of the Chicago outfielders in left center, scoring two to end the game.

On Tuesday afternoon, Chicago pitchers threw well, but ultimately Aurora's (27-4-1) two hurlers were the ones to claim victory. Spartans fourth-year Taylor Petersen and third-year Elizabeth Parker threw back-to-back shutouts, as the Maroons' offense failed to get any big two-out hits.

Third-year Hannah Roberts gave up no earned runs over her seven innings of work, but her effort was blemished only after a fifth-inning defensive misstep extended the inning. After a single, Fuhr's fielding error, and a sacrifice bunt put runners on second and third with two outs, Zito struck Roberts' pitch to right center to give the Spartans a 2-0 lead. Nyhlen's subsequent single to right rounded out Aurora scoring threat.

Both Roberts and fourth-year center fielder Kara Thaw singled with one out in the seventh, but the Maroons were unable to get on the board, losing 3-0.

In the follow-up, second-year spot starter and reliever Lauren Hula gave up an earned run in four innings of four-hit ball, teaming up with Wade, who provided four strikeouts in three innings of shutout ball. The solid pitching effort, and Fuhr's two-for-three game, weren't enough as a number of hard-hit balls found their ways into Aurora gloves.

The Maroons ran into similar trouble around the time of the Illinois Wesleyan Tournament last spring. The Maroons dropped the second game of a doubleheader at Wheaton before heading south and losing all four games. After rebounding with three wins in four games, Chicago made the playoffs at 26-9 on the regular season.

Despite recent struggles, quality wins in the next few weeks should get softball back in postseason play, where their pitching staff, with one more year of experience, should lead the team's run. Overall hitting has also improved this year, though run support and defense have not been up to their previous quality in recent days.

Chicago now prepares for a pair of weekend doubleheaders with only eight games left to get the season back on track. They head to Wisconsin-Whitewater (13-15) Saturday, a team they beat twice last year. Sunday's doubleheader will be senior day for fourth-year second baseman Julie Wiorkowski, and the Maroons hope to send her off with a home field sweep of Lawrence (14-11).