SPORTS

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March 31, 2006

Hot bats put softball on road to victory

For the past three years, softball has lived and died with good pitching. This season, personnel changes will force some tweaking to that approach.

With fourth-year battery mates pitcher Hannah Roberts and catcher Randi Leppla absent from this year’s roster, top-of-the-rotation strength may no longer be a touchstone for the Maroons. The crafty three-time All-American Roberts was notorious for shutting down opposing offenses, leading Chicago to three strong seasons even as the team’s own bats remained quiet. Faced with the unexpected challenge of replacing Robert’s 16 wins and 0.36 ERA over more than 137 innings, the team had a somewhat dim outlook on the coming spring.

After a few extra hitting drills in off-season training, the Maroons erased thoughts of a dismal season when the offense came alive over spring break in Fort Myers, Florida. Posting an 8–2 mark for the trip, they emerged as a well-rounded squad ready to take on the best back here in Chicago.

The Maroons have thus far recorded a team batting average of .284, compared to last season’s .259, and a .374 slugging percentage, up from .319. Waving big sticks this year are third-year outfielder Nancy Bugajski and fourth-years third baseman Kayti Fuhr and first baseman Rachel Cohen. Fuhr and Cohen have posted .423 and .409 marks, while Bugajski has paced the team with a .444 average.

“I think half the battle was mentally preparing ourselves for this season,” third-year pitcher Petra Wade said. “Our team needed to realize that we were capable of winning despite our loss. Spring break proved that our team has confidence, and now we know we can win.”

Not only are the Maroons getting on base this year, they’re getting the necessary strings of hits to bring runners around to score. It’s indicative of a team chemistry that’s hard to find or drill in practice.

“The team as a whole is really playing,” assistant coach Kelly Ostler said. “It’s rare that a squad works together that solidly.”

A number of rookies have helped spark that new-found chemistry, most notably first-year catcher Jen Jacobsen and fourth-year pitcher Courtney Uchtyil. Jacobsen will split time behind the plate with returning second-year Vanessa Pineros to help eat up some of Leppla’s innings. Uchytil has allowed no runs and held opposing batters to .160 hitting over five innings.

“Courtney has been like a breath of fresh air for the team,” Ostler said.

Uchytil will most likely be in the third spot of the rotation buttressing Wade and third-year left-hander Lauren Hula. Unlike in previous seasons, head coach Ruth Kmak isn’t looking to assign any permanent battery mates. Both the pitching and catching rotations will vary throughout the season.

Hosting their first game since returning from Florida, the Maroons will see if they can continue their success from spring break when they face off against North Central (10–2) Saturday.