May 13, 2003

Softball narrowly misses regional championship

The softball team's season came to a dramatic end Sunday in Bloomington, Illinois when Chicago faced longtime foe Illinois Wesleyan in the NCAA Division III Midwest Regional Final. The Maroons had been hoping to bring the South Side a regional championship this year, but unfortunately, fate had decided otherwise.

It was the second time in the weekend tournament and the fifth time overall that Chicago had faced Wesleyan. The Maroons fought hard the entire game but eventually fell in the 11th inning to the Titans, 3-2.

"I'm happy with how we played. I don't think we could have played any harder," said fourth-year shortstop Cristina Metildi.

The women won their opening game Friday against Washington University 4-1. On Saturday, they dropped the first game to Illinois Wesleyan 4-2, but then regrouped to battle the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater later in the day, winning 6-3 in 11 innings.

The Maroons faced the Titans on Sunday for the chance to win a berth in the National Championship. Had they won the game, Chicago would have had to play Wesleyan a third and deciding time because of the tournament's double-elimination rule.

While the Maroons did come up short, three players were honored at the conclusion of the tournament when NCAA officials named them to the All-Midwest Regional team. First-year pitcher Hannah Roberts, first-year third baseman Kayti Fuhr, and second-year catcher Annie Yaniga all received regional honors.

"We were really excited about this tournament because everyone knew we had the potential to win it all. We were extremely focused and took everything one game at a time. We really set the right tone by beating Wash U in the first game," said first-year outfielder Alyssa Wiegand.

In Friday's opener, the Maroons played very well defensively and got timely hits. They started off strong, getting one run in each of the first three innings and another important insurance run in the sixth. Roberts continued to pitch well, fanning 10 batters and recording her eighth consecutive win.

On Saturday, in the first game against Illinois Wesleyan, the Maroons had trouble scoring early while Wesleyan scored four runs in the first three innings. Chicago didn't pick up offensively until the last inning when the team scored two runs, but a controversial call by the umpire ended the game before Chicago could complete the rally. "After the first Wesleyan game I thought the team was starting to fall apart a little, but we picked up our heads and came back as a team for the Whitewater game," said second-year second baseman Julie Wiorkowski.

"I think we realized this weekend that nothing can happen with just a few people," said fourth-year pitcher Megan Kunz. "This year we had a true team because when someone was down, we picked her up. Really, with the incredible amount of talent we had, that is all you need to win."

The game against Whitewater was certainly very tense for the Maroons. "[It] was way closer than it should have been. We should have taken them apart, but they wanted to stay in it almost as bad as we did, so they went down fighting," Fuhr said. In the 11th and decisive inning, Chicago played very well defensively with some adept plays from the outfielders, in particular first-year Kara Thaw.

"With every extra inning, I would get more and more nervous. But the bottom of the last inning wasn't necessarily relaxing either when bases were loaded and the winning run at the plate. But we came through with some solid defensive plays and finished the game with a win," Metildi said.

"Both the Whitewater and Wesleyan games were really exciting and nerve-racking. In the final innings, whenever there was a runner on base it was a threat. The defense knew we had to pick up and stay strong and we did. Against Wesleyan, unfortunately, their offense knew they had to pick it up, and they did. They got hits at the right time when runners were in scoring position," Wiorkowski said.

Against Wesleyan, Chicago played a seamless defensive game. The contest was scoreless for the regular seven innings, but both teams scored two runs in the eighth. The Maroons then held off the Titans for two more innings until the winning hit in the bottom of the 11th.

"There was really nothing we could do against them. We were probably hitting the ball harder except just right to people," Metildi said. "Their hits just dropped more than ours. It was as simple as that."

The team's season came to an end, but there was much to celebrate. Chicago appeared to play with more intensity than in previous seasons, not only during the tournament but also throughout the whole season. Thus it is only fitting that this year's team is the most successful in school history. The Chicago softball program had sent only two other teams to the regionals before, but neither made it as far as the final. In addition, this year's team included many first-years and underclassmen, including the three teammates honored in the All-Regional standings.

Chicago is expecting big things in the future from its new and talented core. "After seeing how much potential we have, I am really excited about next year and the years after because we are going to keep getting better and better," Thaw said.

At the same time, Chicago's two seniors were invaluable members of the team. Kunz pitched arguably the best season of her career, and Metildi was a strong leader and one of the team's most consistent talents, earning the prestigious All-American recognition her second year.

"We're going to miss our seniors so much and that's the reason I was most upset we didn't win regionals," said first-year utility player Randi Leppla. "I know all the underclassmen wanted to do it not only for ourselves, but for our seniors. Cristina and Megan will definitely be missed next year."