SPORTS

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April 8, 2008

Hot and cold offense holds back softball

It was hit or miss for softball during their spring break trip to Tucson, with the Maroons winning easily one day and falling hard the next. The Maroons aren’t in the desert anymore, but getting back to Chicago hasn’t leveled out their performance any.

In three doubleheaders over four days, Chicago (7–9) went three for six and played only one game that wasn’t stopped early by the eight-run mercy rule. The Maroons throttled Kalamazoo (1–11) twice Thursday, split a pair with North Park (9–9) Saturday, and then got shut out Sunday at Illinois Wesleyan (17–3).

Opening the string of games with a bang, Chicago started with a six-run inning in their first crack at Kalamazoo. After blanking the Hornets in the top of the first, the Maroons got all the way through their lineup in their at-bat and recorded six hits, including a two-RBI double to left field from fourth-year first baseman Cassie Wieranga.

Kalamazoo left two in scoring position in the second and again failed to score, and Chicago’s bats stayed hot. By the end of the second inning, the Maroons were up 10–0 and the rout was on for Kalamazoo.

As overpowering as Chicago’s offense was, their defense might have been even better. Second-year starting pitcher Kathleen Duffy (3–3, 5.47 ERA) picked up the win, fanning six and allowing just one hit as she opened the game with three scoreless innings. First-year Christy Corfias (3–2) relieved her and preserved the shutout, no-hitting the Hornets over two innings of work. While the Maroons’ pitchers and defense dominated, their bats picked up five more runs, and the game was called midway through the fifth with Chicago up 15–0.

Perking up some in the second game, Kalamazoo managed to hold the Maroons to just four runs over the first three innings, but the Hornets’ offensive futility continued. They got only two hits off of second-year starting pitcher Lauren White (2–3, 6.74), who struck out But after White sent third-year Lauren Millar packing to end the top of the fourth, the Maroons were only up one, and it looked like the game could go all seven innings. Chances of that happening dried up quickly, however, when Chicago went on a four-run spurt in the bottom of the inning. Five Maroons got hits, and the rally was capped by an RBI single from Duffy, who was 3–3 at the plate on the day.

The surge put Chicago up 8–0, and when Kalamazoo couldn’t get on the board in the fifth, the teams got to go home early.

A stiffer test came the Maroons’ way Saturday, when they took on North Park at Stagg. The Vikings scored in the first inning of game one, and Wierenga batted in second-year second baseman Jillian Lenson to tie things up in the second, but it began as a relatively low scoring contest.

That all changed in the fourth. Third-year Kara Emmering crushed a two-RBI home run to open the floodgates and the Vikings started piling on. They put up two more runs in the inning and then scored three more in the fifth.

Trailing 8–1, Chicago tried to pull back into the game and got one runner home in the sixth, but the deficit was too much to overcome. None of the Maroon batters got on base in the seventh, and the team wound up falling 8–2 in only their third full seven-inning game of the season.

The nightcap of the double header turned out to be a different story. The Maroons faltered at the start, allowing three runs in the first, but quickly shored up their defense and evened the score when first-year center fielder Caitlin Romano and third-year short stop Jen Jacobson both doubled and combined for three RBIs in the bottom of the second.

Scoring again in the third and fourth, Chicago built a 6–4 lead, but the real show was in the sixth inning. North Park scored to get within one and looked to be in good position after putting out the Maroons’ first two batters in the bottom of the inning. The wheels came off the cart, though, after Jacobson doubled and first-year designated hitter Hannah Lighty hit her home.

Chicago proceeded to load the bases twice, getting two RBIs the first time and a stunning walk-off grand slam from Lenson the second time. Lenson’s first career homer put the Maroons up by eight, 13–5, bringing the mercy rule into effect and ending the game.

Unfortunately, the incredible end to Saturday’s play gave way to a rough beginning, middle, and end on Sunday. Chicago got only five hits combined during the two five-inning games against Illinois Wesleyan, while allowing eight runs and at least 10 hits in each matchup. With such scattered offensive production, the Maroons never got on the board and barely threatened the Titans.

It wasn’t surprising that Chicago’s bats struggled. Illinois Wesleyan’s starting pitchers, third-year Valerie Hackett (6–2, 1.66) and second-year Christy Engel (9–1, .78), together carried a formidable 14–3 record in to the matchups, and their whole staff tallied 14 strikeouts on the day.

Engel in particular frustrated Chicago’s batters, keeping them guessing and on their heels throughout the first game.

“Their pitcher really threw us off balance,” head coach Ruth Kmak said. “She’s probably the best pitcher we’ve seen all season.”

And when the Maroons struggled at the plate, their pitchers and defense started to feel the pressure, as well.

“The biggest thing that helps our pitchers is for us to score on offense,” Kmak said. “If we’re not scoring on offense, then our pitchers can’t attack confidently from the mound.”

After taking yesterday off, the Maroons return to the field today, taking on UW–Whitewater. The Warhawks are 11–3 on the year and are coming fresh off of a pair of solid wins in a twin bill at UW–Stevens Point (15–5). To keep pace with such a strong team, Chicago will need much more offense than it got on Sunday.

“We just have to come in with the mindset that no matter what they throw, we’re going to hit it,” Kmak said.