Though softball came close in a couple of pitching duels, the Maroons failed to grab the big upsets they hoped would assure them of making it to the playoffs.
Chicago (25-10) concluded its regular season on Saturday, dropping two close games to first-ranked Washington University 1-0 and 2-0. The losses gave the Maroons a 6-9 record over the second half of their season, as they dropped from a 12th-place national ranking to unranked. Chicago's postseason fate now falls into the hands of the NCAA tournament committee, which will render a decision this coming Sunday.
With the disappointing end of the season, the Maroons' playoff chances are hit-or-miss. "I haven't done all the numbers yet," said head coach Ruth Kmak, who has coached the team in all of its four postseason runs. "We really would have liked a split over the weekend, but as it is, everything is completely up in the air."
In the first game of the doubleheader, third-year righty Hannah Roberts (16-4, 0.36) threw a three-hit, one-run complete game but was bested by Bears' second-year righty Laurel Sagartz (22-1, 0.69), who only allowed two hits and no runs. Sagartz took advantage of the Maroons' altered defense to help herself out, scoring Wash U's only run unearned. She stroked a two-out, fourth-inning triple and scored on an error by second-year shortstop Nancy Bugajski, who was filling in for injured second-year Jess Mayhew.
The Maroons threatened in the top of the sixth but failed to score, as third-year designated hitter Kate Rhodes hit a leadoff double before the lineup's 9, 1, and 2 hitters failed to hit the ball out of the infield. In the seventh, the heart of the lineup was retired in order.
In the second game, Wash U and Chicago traded zeros before the Bears hit a leadoff single and double in the top of the third, knocking second-year lefty Lauren Hula (0-3, 3.62) out of the game. Roberts relieved her and allowed a one-out, two-run double before striking out the next two hitters. She allowed just one hit over the next four innings.
Once again the Chicago offense failed to produce, gaining just four hits against fourth-year starter Victoria Ramsey (15-0, 0.49). The Maroons' best chance came in the top of the second with two on and two out for Rhodes, who finished the season in the offense's top three in on-base and slugging percentages, runs batted in, doubles, and triples. Ramsey made the big pitch, however, inducing a pop up to the second baseman to retire the side.
For the second straight season, the Maroons finished the season on a downswing, losing 9 of their last 15 games after starting the season an impressive 19-1. "We just didn't have the discipline at the plate we had in the past few games. It's Wash U, so you always want to win, but 1-0 and 2-0 are not that bad against a team that is 45-1," said Kmak, referring to the Bears having the 10th-most wins in one season in NCAA Div. III history.
Entering the weeklong waiting period before NCAA regional selections, the Maroons are ranked third in the Central Region behind Aurora and Augustina, the only team to beat Wash U all season. Both teams play in their respective conference tournaments this Thursday and Friday, and if both win, the Maroons could be left as the top bidless team in the region. Despite the uncertainty surrounding the tournament, the Maroons continue to prepare as if they will be playing in the postseason.
Regardless of any berth, Chicago travels to Australia from June 13-25 to play several Australian national teams. It will be the first time the softball team has competed outside the country, and the team is excited after fundraising for nearly two years to earn the funds necessary to travel.
Chicago is set to face stiff competition on the trip, essentially playing the split-squad of the Australian Olympic softball team. "Other than in America, the Australians have the best softball in the world, so we're looking forward to the competition," Kmak said.
Despite the late slide, this year's team still made a number of notable improvements on last year, when the team depended on lights-out pitching from wire to wire. Roberts still led the pitching staff, posting 16 wins to tie her with the all-time Chicago career record of 49. Her 0.36 ERA places her second on the single-season record list, only behind her 0.25 mark last year. Roberts also struck out 205 batters, placing her third on the single-season list.
On the hitting side, third-year third baseman Katyi Fuhr led the team in batting average (.331) and multi-hit games (12). On the opposite side of the diamond, third-year Rachael Cohen drove in 20 RBI and finished with a team-leading .400 on-base percentage. First-year left fielder Dominique Marshall proved to be the offense's most important addition, hitting a team-leading three home runs. The Maroons' scoring was up from 3.4 to 3.6 runs per game, but some key defensive mishaps nullified that advantage.
Once again, the Maroons' lack of offense late in the season hurt them, as they quickly transformed from a 19-1 playoff-bound juggernaut to a 25-10 bubble team. Though the pitching was again strong and the overall hitting was better, the hitters only managed eight runs in their 10 losses. With an impressive list of accomplishments this year and playoff appearances in four of the last five seasons, all they can do is wait and hope.