SPORTS

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April 29, 2008

Bitter end for softball's lackluster season

Despite some of its best overall performances of the season, softball was bedeviled by the details of the game in its final weekend of play.

Although the Maroons (11–19) outhit their competition 28–25 Saturday and Sunday, the team dropped three of its four games, losing twice at 23rd-ranked UW–Oshkosh (24–8) to start out the weekend before splitting their twinbill with Lawrence (9–16) to finish off the year.

The losses are a bitter pill for a Chicago squad that has gone through growing pains this season, but went 7–13 since returning from Arizona. The Maroons kept most of the weekend’s contests close in the early going, only to give up big innings and lots of runs late.

Losing in that fashion is even more disappointing because of how well the team played in almost every aspect of the game.

“Offensively, we had great at bats, we had great focus at the plate, and we put the pressure on on offense, and our pitching was good again on both days,” head coach Ruth Kmak said.

That all-around strength was never more apparent this season than in Saturday’s first matchup against Oshkosh. The game was tied at one through three and a half innings, and the Titans had two outs and two on in the bottom of the fourth. Second-year pitcher Lauren White (4–8, 5.92 ERA) had a full count against second-year center fielder Amie Heinzelman and served up what appeared to be strike three.

“Lauren threw strike three which the batter actually swung at, but apparently neither umpire saw her swing at it,” Kmak said. “So it would have been the third out of the inning and the inning would have been over.”

Capitalizing on the bad situation, the Titans managed to put up four runs before White could force first-year second baseman Aerial Spang into grounding out. The Titans’ followed up their two-out assault in the fourth with a decisive two-run sixth inning, after which they held a 7–2 advantage. Two RBI off a double from first-year pinch hitter Hannah Lighty in the top of the seventh helped the Maroons narrow the gap to 7–5, but Oshkosh’s relief pitching held up in the end and secured the win.

“It was a game where we actually outplayed them, we outhit them, we had probably the best pitching performance all year, but they had a couple calls go the other way, and we didn’t win the game,” Kmak said.

The final tally in the day’s second game wasn’t as close, but the contest started out just as competitively as the matinee. Second-year pitcher Kathleen Duffy (5–8, 4.76), who pitched four and a third innings in a losing effort, kept the Titans off the board until the third, when fourth-year catcher Dani Olsen went yard for the game’s first run.

Olsen’s solo shot was an indicator of things to come. In the fourth, Duffy loaded the bases and gave up two runs before Chicago got a single Titan out. A fielding error let in another run before Chicago could string together the final two put-outs. The inning concluded with three Oshkosh runners stranded and the home team up 4–0.

After the Maroons left fourth-year catcher Vanessa Pineros and first-year center fielder Caitlin Romano in scoring position in the top of the fifth, the Titans returned to the plate with the same four-run lead. Oshkosh wasted no time loading the bases, bringing up homerun-hitting Olsen, with three on and one out.

Olsen didn’t disappoint. The four-year letter-winner jacked a grand slam that put the Titans up 8–0, bringing the mercy rule into effect and ending the game early.

“Kathleen Duffy was not herself,” Kmak said of her pitcher. “She has a bicep injury, so she didn’t throw as well as she has the past few weeks.”

The Maroons parlayed the talent they showed Saturday into results early Sunday. After Lawrence walked third-year shortstop Jen Jacobson and Pineros singled, Duffy homered to center to put Chicago up 3–0 in the first.

In the third, Chicago loaded the bases on a string of walks, setting up fourth-year infielder Cassie Weiranga to drive in Lighty on a single. A wild pitch brought home first-year left fielder Jennifer Simile later in the the inning, giving Chicago a 5–0 edge. The Maroons picked up another run in the fourth, and although Lawrence got five runs in the sixth and the seventh, the Vikings wound up short, losing 6–5.

Giving up runs in the final innings would end up biting Chicago in the nightcap. RBI from White and Jacobson helped Chicago put four runs on the board during the fifth and sixth, and the team led 4–1 going into the final inning.

But in the bottom of the seventh, with two runners on, fourth-year shortstop Carrie Van Groll smashed a three-run homer, tying the game and forcing an extra frame. Chicago went scoreless in the top of the eighth, and in the bottom of the inning, Van Groll once more came to the plate with two on, and once more took Duffy deep with a three-run longball, locking up the Vikings’ win.

Dropping three out of four to conclude the season is never fun, but the games gave the Maroons much to be hopeful about as they prepare for next spring.

“We didn’t have bad at bats at all. The results weren’t always the best, but the bats were quality at bats all the way through,” Kmak said. “On defense, we were young; our outfield was very young this year. Basically, besides first and second base, everybody else was in new defensive positions.... It’s an ongoing and developing project.”