April 17, 2007

Softball sweeps Gorlocks, but struggles again at IWU Invite 

Since their 10–2 start to the year in Florida, softball has been practically untouchable thanks largely to a powered-up offense that complimented a deeper-pitching staff. The Illinois Wesleyan University Tournament saw both of these improved parts of Chicago’s game get truly roughed up for the first time this season.

Splitting a four-game weekend set, the 19th-ranked Maroons (16–6) managed to snare a pair of wins from a sub-.500 Webster squad but got pounded 10–3 by Maryville (16–16) and 12–2 by Wash U (19–5). A combination of a slow-starting offense, some off-the-mark pitching, and 12 errors on the trip all added up to an uncharacteristically weak showing from Chicago.

A late upsurge by Maryville tore a win out of the Maroons’ hands and set the tone for the rest of the tournament for the squad in Saturday’s opener. Chicago held a thin lead going into the bottom of the sixth after fourth-year ace Petra Wade helped her own cause with an RBI single and first-year second baseman Jill Lenson walked in a run in the top half of the inning for the 3–2 advantage. With a win only six outs away, all hell broke loose as the Saints struck for eight runs on three hits and sent 12 batters to the box.

Two errors in the fourth had helped Maryville plate its first two runners on the day, and three more by the Maroons’ infield contributed to the Saints’ whirlwind sixth. Of the eight runs put up on the scoreboard, seven of them were unearned, as Wade (9–4, 2.26) got pegged with the 10–3 loss that relegated Chicago to the consolation bracket.

Things didn’t get easier for the squad from there as Webster, who entered the weekend at 9–12, greeted rookie pitcher Lauren White (3–2, 3.75) with a leadoff homer to spark a three-run first. The Gorloks tagged on another in their next at bat, and stayed in front of the Maroons until the sixth when two wild pitches by first-year starter Lexie Moore brought home third-year first baseman Cassie Wierenga and fourth-year shortstop Jessica Mayhew. Second-year third baseman Jen Jacobson added an RBI grounder to Moore to put Chicago ahead 9–8.

With Wade back on the mound to close, back-to-back walks to open the seventh gave the Gorloks the edge they needed to push the game into extra innings. Wade got the next two batters to ground out to the mound, but the free passes had moved the runners into scoring position and allowed third-year third baseman Kelsey Washam to knock in the tying run with her second RBI of the day.

In extended play, each team started with a runner at second—the last players to record outs in the previous inning. With Wierenga on the bases, the Maroons wouldn’t have to wait for long for her to cross the plate. Mayhew led off the inning and lined a double to cap off a three-for-four game and put the 10–9 comeback in the books for Chicago.

The Maroons had pulled out the win, but it was obvious that the squad would have to turn things around in a hurry to have a fighting chance against the Bears. Facing a trio of Chicago pitchers, the Gorloks had notched six earned runs on eight hits, and the South Siders’ defense continued to struggle with three more errors. While the squad mended some of the holes in its gloves, there was no end in sight for its pitching and offensive troubles.

Outhit 17–4 by Wash U, Chicago couldn’t keep up with the Bears’ six-run outbursts in the third and fifth against Wade and fourth-year lefty Lauren Hula (2–0, 2.67). The game ended early at 12–2 from the mercy rule, with the Maroons’ two runs coming off of a Wade RBI double to right and Mayhew’s fourth dinger on the year.

After getting bruised by the Bears, the Maroons found some redemption in another showdown with Webster. White took the ball again, tossing five innings and limiting the Gorloks to two earned runs on eight hits for the win. Chicago came close to repeating extra innings with Webster, but this time a three-run sixth and another tacked on in the top of seven were enough to keep the squad out front after Webster mustered a two-run rally against Wade.

Although the 2–2 showing at the IWU Tournament puts the first smudge on an otherwise stellar season, the split comes as an improvement over last year’s effort when the team went 0-4, dropping multiple games to Wash U and Maryville. Last season, Chicago recovered from the tourney to make a postseason run, and the squad is on path to make another playoff bid if they can leave behind this weekend. The Maroons will try to get everything back in line today when they take on Hope (17–6), a squad that defeated them 2–0 last year at the NCAA regionals.