April 7, 2006

Softball looking to get offensive at IWU Invite

This season, softball has stayed true to their traditional winning formula, dominating on the mound to shut out nearly half of their opponents. This weekend, faced with a dose of their own medicine, the Maroons will have to back their pitchers with equally strong hitting and defense.

With an array of dominant hard-throwing hurlers awaiting them at the Illinois Wesleyan Invite, Chicago (11–3) will look for greater offensive production from every spot in the lineup. The Maroons will start off their weekend against 19th-ranked archrival Wash U (18–3) at noon Saturday before taking on Fontbonne (6–4). They’ll then get another shot at the Bears early Sunday afternoon before wrapping things up against Maryville (8–12). The team hopes to leave Bloomington having established that they are just as stellar on the field and at the plate as they are on the mound.

“[Illinois Wesleyan] is typically a tough meet for us,” head coach Ruth Kmak said. “We’re firing on all cylinders and hoping to turn that around this year.”

The high-riding Maroons were overwhelmed by Wash U and Fontbonne pitchers at last year’s IWU Invite. They defeated Maryville 9–6 to start things off on the right foot, but then fell to Hope 9–6, Fontbonne 8–1, and the Bears 2–1 to end their weekend with a disappointing 1–3 mark that ended their 15-game winning streak.

Maroon hitters know it won’t be any easier this year. They are taking batting practice this week to prepare for the fastballs and outside breaking balls they will see this weekend from pitchers like Wash U’s two-time All-American third-year right-hander Laurel Sagartz (9–1, 0.11).

“We have been working on pitch selection and trying to avoid junk that will move outside of the zone,” fourth-year designated hitter Kate Rhodes said. “We are very optimistic that we will be able to succeed this weekend.”

In order to succeed, Chicago will have to overcome dominant opposing pitching, requiring a great showing from the four big bats in the lineup. Second-year third basemen Kayti Fuhr is batting .364 on the season with seven RBIs in the three-hole. The veteran fourth-years Rhodes and first baseman Rachel Cohen join her in the heart of the lineup. Both players boast a .353 average.

In addition to these disciplined batters, the Maroons have seen production up and down their lineup. Nearly every starter has come through in the clutch, a phenomenon the squad is determined to continue against the three teams at the invite. Each starter has at least three RBI on the season.

“After our loss in the second game to North Central last weekend, we headed into the locker room to go through our lineup and evaluate our hitting from all spots,” Kmak

“Oddly enough, there wasn’t a single player without some form of contribution at the plate thus far. Opposing pitchers don’t have any moments to relax with our lineup.”

Second-year left-fielder Dominique Marshall added credence to her coach’s words in the front end of last weekend’s doubleheader. Marshall, who is typically not a power hitter, pulled a high fastball over the left field fence to give her team a 1–0 lead over North Central. Chicago went on to win 4–1 before falling 9–0 in the capper. The squad was denied a chance to bounce back quickly when their scheduled Monday doubleheader against Hope was rained out and postponed to April 22.

“Everyone has to come through,” Kmak said. “That’s production, we can’t rely on just one or two people.”

While every Maroon will hope to play a key role in Bloomington, Rhodes will probably drive in the key runs for Chicago. The number-six hitter has a team-leading 10 runs batted in this season.