After 15 straight wins, someone finally found a way to stop the Maroons.
After beginning the season 19-1, softball dropped its final three games at last weekend's Illinois Wesleyan Tournament. The Maroons defeated Maryville 9-6 to get things started, but lost to Hope 6-2, Fontbanne 8-1, and Washington 2-1. Chicago dropped to 19-4 this season, and may not hold its 12th-place national ranking.
In the first game of the weekend, a powerful offensive team in Maryville tested the Maroons. The game went into extra innings before Chicago scored three runs in the top of the ninth to secure the victory. Second-year starter Petra Wade pitched five and two-thirds innings before being relieved by third-year Hannah Roberts, who picked up the win for Chicago.
"The Maryville game was good for us because we fought and fought all game and finally had a huge offensive explosion in the ninth inning," said head coach Ruth Kmak. "We were really hitting the ball well all weekend, we just had a lot of line-outs."
The line-outs caught up to Chicago that afternoon against Hope. Second-year Lauren Hula started for Chicago but had to be relieved by Roberts after getting just one out against three runs in the first. Behind early, the Maroons could not make the adjustment to playing in a Park District field with walls 225 feet away from home plate.
Not having lost back-to-back games all season, the Maroons were not ready for what happened the next day. In the opener against Fontbanne, Chicago once again fell behind in the first inning, and was never able to produce offensively. The team put nine runners on base during the game, but couldn't find a way to translate those opportunities into run
That afternoon, the Maroons turned to team ace Roberts to stop the bleeding against top-ranked Wash U. She proved helpful at the plate, as well, leading off the second with a double. Second-year right fielder Nancy Bugajski singled her in for the first run of the game. The Bears struck back against Roberts in the bottom of the frame with a solo homer, and then grabbed the win with a walkoff shot to lead off the bottom of the seventh. Roberts (12-1) only allowed two other hits all game, but was tagged with her first loss of the season.
The Washington game was the only of the four played in a park similar to that of the Maroons' home field.
"Both their home runs would have been pop flies in any of our other three games," Kmak said, "and we were hitting their top pitcher hard all game. We could have beaten them, I'm sure of it."
A close game with the best team in the country bodes well for Chicago, which is still in the thick of the playoff hunt and is currently ranked first in the region. In the next week, the Maroons will play eight games against regional opponents, a stretch which will almost certainly determine their playoff fate. The team gets things started with a doubleheader against regional runner-up Aurora on Tuesday.
"We still need to work on our defense. We have a tendency to rely a little too much on our pitching, and when we face a powerful offense team our defense hasn't stood up as well." Kmak said. "But if we can improve those things and have a solid week, we'll make the regionals, and I think we can."