With playoff contenders taking the field across the nation this weekend, softball showed just how hard they are willing to work to reserve their postseason spot. Lights-out pitching, season-high performances, and school records were all par for the course in Chicago’s drive to grab a NCAA at-large berth.
Determination was in the air Friday as the Maroons battled Aurora (32–8) at Stagg. Despite coming in with a 20-game winning streak and a recent number-five ranking in the Great Lakes Region poll, the Spartans could not put their hosts (24–8) away. Keyed by yet another stunning performance from fourth-year pitcher Petra Wade (14–5, 2.18), the team swept their opponent with a 3–0 shutout in game one and a 6–2 win in the nightcap. The right-hander struck out a season-high 11 batters in her afternoon three-hitter. With the help of her teammates’ offensive efforts, Wade tallied her 48th career victory and came within one of tying the program’s all-time wins record.
Coming out strong with an RBI double off the bat of first-year right fielder Lauren White, the Maroons gained a 1–0 lead in the bottom of the first. The Spartans were unable to respond, and Chicago kept the blows coming as it racked up a solo home run by third-year first basemen Cassie Wierenga (her fourth of the year) and an RBI double from second-year third basemen Jen Jacobson in the second. These early offensive jabs would be the final runs scored in the game.
A split seemed likely in game two, as the Spartans scored two unearned runs off fourth-year pitcher Lauren Hula (2–0, 2.31) in the top of the fourth. However, Chicago was not ready to put the bats away just yet. Fourth-year center fielder Nancy Bugajski answered back with a two-RBI double to even the score in the bottom of the frame. While Aurora’s usual offensive powerhouse fell quiet once again in the fifth, the Maroons were just getting started.
In the bottom of the inning, third-year catcher Vanessa Pineros led off with a solo shot to center field, her second on the year. With a double by Jacobson and RBIs by Wade and third-year left fielder Dominique Marshall, the Maroons took a 5–2 lead over the Spartans. White would bring in the final run for Chicago with an RBI double to right center in the bottom of the sixth, extending their lead to 6–2. The triumph lengthened their winning streak to four.
Capping off their home weekend with a doubleheader against Lawrence (15–10), the Maroons did what they could to put themselves in position to make the postseason.
Soaking up the support of a large home crowd, Wade tied the career victory record with her 49th. The team swept Lawrence, with 9–1 and 10–4 victories on the day. Wade gave up only four hits and one run while tallying six strikeouts in her performance on the mound.
Key offensive showings were provided by Bugajski, who went three-for-four with three RBIs and a run scored, and Pineros, who tallied a three-for-three mark with a pair of ribbies. The Vikings proved to be no match for the attack that the Maroons had in store that afternoon. The South Siders never relented, and Chicago walked away with an intimidating 9–1 win.
The Maroons never wavered in game two. After Lawrence scored an unearned run by second-year third baseman Jenna Reichel in the first inning, the Maroons began what would turn into an massacre, scoring 10 runs off 12 hits.
Wade and fourth-year shortstop Jessica Mayhew led the onslaught with home runs off Lawrence’s third-year pitcher Catherine Marinac (13–8, 2.35). Wade’s homer in the third, the first of her career, was a two-run shot to left center. Mayhew slugged a two-run blast in the bottom of the sixth to tie the team’s homer record with her fifth of the season.
“For the past couple weeks, we’ve been talking about taking care of what we can take care of, and that is doing everything we can to win each game we play,” head coach Ruth Kmak said. “We are taking this ‘one game at a time’ attitude into our match-up against UW–Oshkosh, the top-ranked team in our NCAA region.”
There is no question why the Titans (28–6) hold that title. They are batting .293 with 21 home runs on the season to go along with their pitching staff’s 1.04 ERA. The Maroons will face UW–Oshkosh today at Stagg.
As for the chances of seeing Chicago return to the playoffs, their fate depends on the results from the conference tournaments being held this weekend. While two wins tomorrow would greatly assist the team’s chances, the non-conference Maroons are competing for one of seven Pool B selections or one of sixteen Pool C bids. The Maroons will have a better idea of where they stand when their new ranking comes out this Thursday.