April 21, 2006

Wade fells Foresters as softball splits

It wasn’t the sweep that they were hoping for. But behind a pair of lights-out performances from Petra Wade, softball showed signs of breaking out of its recent funk.

Riding the bat and arm of their fourth-year ace along with some timely defense and hitting, the Maroons (14–10) earned a tough home split with Lake Forest Wednesday. Chicago dropped the first game 1–0 but rebounded to take the second 4–1 on a vibrant Hyde Park spring afternoon. Wade (13–4, 1.62), who went the distance in both contests, now has eight complete games on the season.

“We should’ve swept, but we’ve still got a lot of games ahead of us,” fourth-year first baseman Rachel Cohen said. “We can’t ask for anything more from Petra. She’s been amazing. It’s we who need to pick it up, not her.”

Things got off to an inauspicious start for Chicago in the opener as the Foresters got on the board early. Fourth-year shortstop Melissa Wegner singled to right to lead off the game, promptly stole second, and came around to score on a single to center by third-year center fielder Erin Watts. The outfielder was just 90 feet from home with two outs before Wade got out of the jam by inducing a pop up to third.

After going down in order in the bottom of the first, the Maroons put together their first and only scoring opportunity of the day against first-year righty Jen Mattern (4–0). With second-year left fielder Dominique Marshall on second after a leadoff double, Cohen hit a grounder to short, but both runners were safe on the fielder’s choice when Wegner tried to get Marshall leading off second. A sacrifice from fourth-year third baseman Kate Rhodes gave the Maroons two runners in scoring position with only one away. It looked like the home team was going to square things up, but it was not to be. The next two batters went down quietly and the rally was extinguished.

From that point on, the game turned into a classic pitchers’ duel, with both hurlers seemingly feeding off each other’s performance. During a stretch from the second inning through the sixth, 15 batters came to the plate for the Foresters. All 15 were sent back to the dugout in frustration, falling victim to Wade’s mixture of breaking and off-speed pitches. Mattern meanwhile managed to keep the Maroons at bay and off the scoreboard for the duration of the contest.

Wade tossed a three-hitter and allowed only four base runners for the game to take the loss for Chicago. Displaying a pinpoint control that allowed her to get ahead in the count against almost every hitter, the righty struck out 10 while walking none. Mattern was every bit as effective, conceding only three hits and two walks in the full seven innings of work despite striking out none.

“We just didn’t come together on offense. It was our fault, not the pitcher,” Cohen said. “We had a couple good hits but they weren’t strung together.”

Things seemed to go from bad to worse for the Maroons in the capper with one swing of the bat. On the first pitch of the game, Wegner smacked a Wade offering over the fence in left for a leadoff homer and a 1–0 lead. On a day where nothingseemed to fall their way, it looked like a nail in the South Siders’s coffin.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the sweep. Instead of folding, the Maroons stepped it up at the plate against second-year righty Kendra Grant (7–3) with two runs of their own in the bottom half of the innings. Second-year second baseman Vanessa Pineros was hit by a pitch leading off, and she advanced to second on a sacrifice by first-year catcher Jen Jacobson. An error by Grant off the bat of fourth-year third baseman Kayti Fuhr gave Chicago runners on second and third with only one out.

A Marshall grounder to third in the next at-bat was fielded cleanly by third-year third baseman Kim Silvers but rather than go for the sure thing at first, Silvers opted to go home with her throw. The ball bounced off the sliding Pineros and rolled away, allowing her to score. Another error, this time by the shortstop Wegner, scored Fuhr, and the Maroons had a 2–1 lead, their first of the day.

“We knew all along we should’ve been winning,” Cohen said. “The runs gave us confidence for the rest of the game, but we knew we should’ve been scoring.”

Buoyed by her teams awakening at the plate, Wade found an extra gear and snuffed out a two-on, no-out Foresters rally in the second with back-to-back strikeouts and a flyout. As the game progressed, the starters’ fatigue became more and more evident. Despite allowing base runners in all but two innings, the Maroons budged but did not break.

“In the second game Lake Forest had my timing down, and I was getting a little slower, so I needed to use my changeup a lot more,” Wade said. “Between my changeup and my screwball I was surprisingly still pretty affective in game two. I think I was so upset I lost the first game. I just refused to drop the second game too.”

Still clinging to the narrow margin in the bottom of the sixth, the Maroons got some insurance runs to ice the game. An RBI single by Wade scored Marshall, and second-year right fielder Cassie Wierenga plated her pitcher with a single of her own for the final run of the game, making it 4–1.

“We just strung our hits together in the second game,” Wade said. “We were not about to lose twice to that team. In the end of the second game we really jumped on the pitcher, giving me some more security, which always makes me feel so much more confident.”

With a comfortable lead, there was little doubt as to who would take the ball for Chicago in top of the seventh. Determined to see this one through to its end, Wade cut down the Foresters on three pitches to clinch the victory. She allowed one earned run while scattering five hits and a walk to go with seven strikeouts. Grant took the loss for Lake Forest, conceding four runs, two earned on four hits, and a walk. She struck out two.

“We didn’t generate any runs in the first game and it’s hard to win a game without scoring any runs,” Fuhr said. “We also made some mistakes in the field and running bases in the first game, and we cleaned that up in the second game, and we were able to string together some offense and get a couple runs.”

Looking for their first winning streak since they took three in a row March 31–April 1, the Maroons will host Hope (21–9) for two starting at 1 p.m. tomorrow. With the regular season down to its final eight contests, time is running out for the Maroons to recapture their early season magic.

“We really need to go out and get these next few games if we want to see any postseason play,” Wade said. The pressure is definitely on for the next week and a half.”