April 11, 2006

Curve your enthusiasm: Softball drops four at IWU

Heading into the weekend, softball had hoped that the new year would offer them the opportunity to exorcise some old demons. They proved not to have a ghost of a chance as their bats fell eerily silent.

After an impressive start to the season, Chicago (11–7) lost their momentum and four straight games at the Illinois Wesleyan Invite. The squad fell to 19th-ranked Wash U (22–3) 5–2 and Fontbonne (17–7) 5–1 Saturday, and lost to the Bears again 5–4 and Maryville (13–13) 3–0 Sunday. Third-year ace Petra Wade (10–3, 1.90) led the team once again over the weekend, anchoring the pitching staff in every game.

“The other teams just made the plays and got the hits when they counted,” Wade said.

With a 7–1 record in their previous eight games, the Maroons entered the tourney optimistic about a competition that has historically given them fits. Their first hint that their dreams were not to come true came in the first of two heartbreakers against their archrivals in Saturday’s opener.

Neither team was able to manage much through the first six frames. Wade was touched for one run in each of the first two innings but settled down to hold the Bears scoreless over their next four plate appearances. While the ace kept the opposition at bay, her squad uncharacteristically struggled offensively against Wash U’s ace, third-year righty Laurel Sagartz.

Things seemed to turn around in the bottom of the seventh. With two outs, the Maroons pieced together a rally and scored twice.

The comeback was short lived. The Bears struck back with three in the top of the eighth to retake the lead and set the final margin at 5–2. In a game where the roles could easily have been reversed, Sagartz (12–1) notched the win for Wash U, allowing two earned runs with six strikeouts in eight innings. Wade went the distance in the loss, allowing all five runs, three earned to go with nine strikeouts.

“We actually hit Sagartz pretty well,” first-year outfielder Christina Ricordati said. “That game could’ve gone either way. Unfortunately it didn’t go our way.”

The offensive struggles continued in the day’s second game against Fontbonne. Limited to just six hits, the Maroons couldn’t muster much until the top of the sixth inning. After an unearned run cut the Griffins’ lead to 5–1, Chicago threatened to get right back into it with runners on first and second and two outs. That was all they would manage, as fourth-year first baseman Rachel Cohen was called out at third on a steal attempt. The call stood despite protests from the bench.

Wade gave up earned three runs, on seven hits and three strikeouts in losing her second decision of the afternoon. Third-year southpaw Lauren Hula was tagged for a pair of earned runs on six hits in two innings of relief. Fourth-year Becky Kane (5–5) submitted a complete game gem to snag the win for Fontbonne, allowing just one unearned run on six hits.

“We just didn’t hit enough,” Ricordati said. “We should have been able to score a lot of runs on Kane and we didn’t.”

If Chicago was hoping the third time would be the charm in Sunday’s battle with the Bears, their hopes were dashed once again. While the Maroons banged home a pair in each of the first two frames, Wash U fought back to tie the game on a two-run homer from fourth-year second baseman Monica Hanono. One inning later, with Hula on in relief of Wade, the Bears pushed across the go-ahead run on an RBI single from Hanono. A Maroons rally fell short in the bottom of the sixth, and they went down in order in their last ups to lose to the Bears again.

Despite their ultimate, the team has some pleasant memories to take away from the second day’s action. Wierenga’s two-run homer to put Chicago up 4–2 was among the highlights.

“That was a great moment because even though we lost to them, we know we are just as good as them any day of the week,” Wade said. “They don’t scare us.”

Hula (0–2, 7.30) took the loss for Chicago, giving up three hits and an earned run in one inning. Wade threw six innings, allowing four earned runs. Sagartz earned the victory with 5.1 innings of near-flawless relief of first-year Susan Gray. She struck out seven and allowed just two hits.

Desperate for their first victory of the tourney, things soured quickly in Sunday’s finale against Maryville. Fourth-year starter Courtney Uchytil struggled with her control early on, issuing four free passes and hitting two batters. The Saints took advantage of her wildness, pushing across three runs in only 1.2 innings.

The Maroons offense meanwhile managed only three hits and only advanced two runners as far as second base.

Uchytil (1–2, 4.26) was dealt the loss for Chigaco. Second-year starter Erin Clark (4–6) tallied the victory for the Saints.

Despite their tournament letdown, the Maroons remain optimistic. Their pitching continued to impress, and they played solid defense. However, they couldn’t deliver the big hits when they needed to and their opponents were able to capitalize on key mistakes. Chicago will look to rebound next weekend as they hit the road for doubleheader dates with Lawrence (9–8) and UW–Oshkosh (16–10).