SPORTS

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April 18, 2006

Softball leaves bats behind in road split

Earlier in the spring, softball’s lineup hit with power up and down the order, scoring runs in bunches and pounding the ball to all fields. Lately, it’s been all quiet on the offensive front for softball.

After a dismal showing at the Illinois Wesleyan Invite, the Maroons (13–9) split a pair of road doubleheaders this weekend at Lawrence (11–10) and UW–Oshkosh (18–12). Third-year righty Petra Wade (12–3, 1.66) led the team to both of its victories, a 4–3 squeaker in Friday’s opener and a 1–0 shutout of Oshkosh to start off Saturday. Third-year lefty Lauren Hula (0–4, 5.95) got tagged with both of the losses, a 3–0 knockout by the Vikings and a 3–2 defeat at the hands of the Titans.

The Maroons swung the bats with some clout in their season-opening trip to Florida, but have fallen into a slump since then. The team recorded 5.3 runs per game in their first 10 contests but have slipped to a 2.3 mark for the 12 showdowns since then. The scoring drought has been reflected in the won-loss column while adding pressure to the pitching staff, giving Chicago hurlers little to work with. After going 10–2 in their Sunshine state swing, the squad has dropped seven of its last nine.

“As soon as we’re down, our team tends to have an emotional problem,” Wade said.

Looking to their ace in the front end against Lawrence, the lack of runs seemed like it would not be an issue early on as Wade held the Vikings scoreless through her first five frames. Facing do or die time, Lawrence cut the lead to 4–1 with a double and single in a two out rally in the sixth. Wade got out of the jam by recording her ninth strikeout of the game.

With fourth-year righty Courtney Uchytil on to close the game, a walk and two infield errors quickly had Vikings lurking on every base. After Lawrence pushed across a run with only one away, Kmak put Wade back in the circle. Her first batter knocked an RBI single to right that threatened to tie the game, but second-year right fielder Cassie Wierenga nailed the runner at the plate. Wade got the next hitter to ground out to first base to ice the game.

“I got kind of shaky there for a while, but our defense was solid and we pulled through,” Wade said. “They got some lucky hits.”

Chicago hung on to win, but the momentum had swung over to Lawrence. It showed at the beginning of the capper as the Vikings hurt Hula for two runs on three hits in the bottom of the first. The southpaw settled down and worked out of a one-out, two-on jam to hold the home team to just one run in the third. The Maroons failed to string together hits like they had done in the beginning of the season, stranding nine runners in the 1–0 loss.

Saturday’s twinbill against UW–Oshkosh had more pitcher’s duels in store for the squad. Both teams struggled in the box as a total of six runs crossed the plate that afternoon.

Flashing pinpoint control, Wade mowed down the Titans on the way to a 1–0 complete game shutout. Fourth-year designated hitter Kate Rhodes knocked in fourth-year third baseman Kayti Fuhr with a single up the middle to make second-year starter Ronessa Stampfli (11–7) a loser.

It looked like the Maroons had rediscovered their hitting strokes in the second game when Fuhr crushed a two-run homer against second-year righty Amy Sullivan (7–5) in the top of the first. Unfortunately, another hitting drought followed the longball. Chicago collected one more hit against the starter and three in Stampfli’s three innings of shutout relief work.

Hula and Wade teamed up to hold UW-Oshkosh to just three hits for the entire game. All three Titan runs were unearned as the hosts capitalized on four Chicago errors. Last weekend proved that the squad has the arms to compete. Whether the offense can deliver enough run support remains to be answered.

Softball returns to Hyde Park with a matchup against Lake Forest (16–10) Wednesday. The Foresters bring some serious lumber to the midweek contest, having recorded 144 runs on the season, compared to 71 for the Maroons. A win would go a long way towards proving that the team’s early season success was no fluke.

“I’m really proud of the team this year,” Wade said. “We weren’t expected to do too well and so many of our players have turned in fantastic seasons. I just hope we win more our last few games than we lose.”