Winning in the postseason takes a high level of play and more than a little bit of luck. Unfortunately for softball, the squad caught some tough breaks in its second-consecutive NCAA run.
After pulling out a 2–0 edging of St. Norbert (20–14) Friday morning in Eau Claire, WI, the Maroons extended their postseason life to see another game but saw it fade just as quickly against a familiar foe. The squad got another crack at fifth-seeded Coe (31–14) and its ace pitcher late that night after having falling to them in the tourney opener, but too many errors ruled out any chance of exacting a little payback and advancing to the next round. Chicago dropped out of the NCAA Regional with an 8–0 loss, but closing the season at 26–11, the team matches the school record for the most wins in a season.
Backed by a strong outing by fourth-year ace Petra Wade (16–6, 1.97), the Maroons outlasted the Green Knights and second-year Melissa Strey (8–7, 5.07) to boot St. Norbert out of the tournament with a 2–0 shutout. Both starters went the distance, as Wade scattered four hits, issued up one walk, fanned six, and retired 12 of the final 13 batters she faced.
Strey was equally effective through the first four frames, holding Chicago scoreless on just two hits, a single and a double to left by third-year Dominique Marshall. The left fielder paced the South Siders at the plate, going four-for-four and sparking a rally. It was classmate catcher Vanessa Pineros who finally broke up the deadlock in the fifth, though.
Smacking a double to left with two outs, Pineros knocked her first hit of the game and drove in third-year first baseman Cassie Wierenga, who reached base with a single to center. St. Norbert got out of the inning without any further damage, but the Maroons struck again in their next at bat.
Getting things going right away, Marshall and first-year right fielder Kathleen Duffy roped back-to-back singles in the top of the sixth. Wade laid down the sacrifice bunt to push both runners into scoring position, and fourth-year center fielder Nancy Bugajski followed with an RBI single up the middle to boost Chicago’s lead to the final score of 2–0. The win secured the Maroons’ spot in the night game, setting them up for a rematch with Coe.
“I never like having to throw a second game against the same team,” said Wade, who relieved first-year Lauren White (6–4, 3.46) after two-and-a-third innings of work.
It was obvious from the get go that the defense and the rookie hurler would have their hands full trying to contain Coe’s offense. Loading the bases on three-straight singles with two out in the first, the Kohawks rallied early, but a pop up to first-year second baseman Jill Lenson ended the threat.
Even though Chicago went on to strand 11 of Coe’s runners, it struggled to contain the opposing lineup. The Kohawks tagged White and Wade for a combined total of 13 hits, collecting two runs in each of their at bats to slowly push the game out of reach. But more than Coe’s offense, defensive lapses really stung the Maroons, with five errors accounting for five unearned runs.
At the plate, there wasn’t much the South Siders could do to try and close the ever-widening gap as they faced off once again with second-year ace Ellie Schultz (27–9, 0.77). She baffled Chicago in the tournament opener Thursday morning and went on to set a DIII, record of 25 strikeouts that night in Coe’s 1–0, 14-inning loss to top-seeded UW-Oshkosh (36–11). Equally effective with her dropball in her second time around with the Maroons, Schultz held the squad to three hits over five innings in a game called early from the slaughter rule.
“It was kind of disappointing that we had to face them the first time and then had to come back and play them again,” said Wade, citing missed matchups with Illinois Wesleyan and UW-Oshkosh, whom the team beat earlier in the season.
The 8-0 shutout dealt by Schultz and the Kohawks ended Chicago’s playoff run and closed the books on the 2007 season. While it doesn’t replace advancing to the next round, matching the program record for the most victories is one of the many achievements from a spring that marked improvements all around from last year’s Cinderella squad.
“Obviously it wasn’t a great way to end, but it was a great season,” head coach Ruth Kmak said. “Our four seniors really had great seasons, and a huge chunk of our success this year came because of their career years.”
The class of 2007 held down key positions on the field with Bujajski patrolling the outfield from center, Jessica Mayhew leading the infield from short, and Wade dominating from the circle. On offense, this trio posted breakthrough springs, boosting their batting stats across the board to fit in with the newly powered offense.
Looking to 2008, the Maroons have a strong foundation to build off of with their rookie sluggers returning along with the heavy lumber of Marshall and Wierenga. Without Wade on the mound, pitching duties will be transferred over to White and first-year righty Kathleen Duffy.