May 7, 2010

Emotional doubleheader ends softball's regular season

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Things were not going well for fourth-year first baseman Kathleen Duffy.

Softball had just been swept in a doubleheader the previous day for the first time all year, the Maroons were losing to Carthage late in the game, and Duffy had struck out in her first two at-bats of the contest.

“We were down by one run and [during] my previous two at-bats, I had not done my job and had let the team down. My knee was messed up from the day before and I was having trouble walking, let alone running and playing ball,” Duffy said.

Duffy refused to let it keep her down as she came to the plate with the bases empty in the sixth inning.

“I told myself to snap out of it and play ball,” Duffy said. ”So instead of letting my frustration get the best of me, I thought about this being one of the last days I could play softball with my teammates, and I was going to have fun playing the game I loved.

“As I approached the batter’s box with two outs, I smiled at the pitcher, knowing I was going to start a rally,” Duffy said. “When I saw the ball coming low and outside, I thought ‘weight back and crush it,’ which I did. The minute the ball hit my bat I knew I had tied the game up and we were back in it.”

Duffy’s home run was a special shot, as her 18th career round-tripper broke the Chicago all-time home run record previously held by Erin Slone in 2001.

While the outstanding accomplishment was acknowledged, the team still had to remain focused and finish off Carthage.

“While I was happy to break the record at the time, I was 100 times more thrilled we were back in the game and knew we were going to defeat Carthage,” Duffy said.

“When Kathleen broke the record, I don’t think any of us were thinking about it,” fourth-year outfielder Alison Feibel said. “We were all so excited that we had scored and were still in the game.”

But Duffy was not done on the day. She added another solo bomb in extra innings that proved to be the game-winning run in the Maroons’ 2–1 eight inning upset of Carthage, who sit atop the Great Lakes region rankings.

Duffy’s two solo shots were all the runs the Maroons needed in the crucial victory, as second-year Sarah Neuhaus and first-year Melissa Collins combined to limit Carthage’s potent attack to just one run over eight frames. Collins was particularly sharp, limiting the Lady Reds to just one hit and one walk while fanning seven batters after taking over for Neuhaus in the fifth inning.

The all-around effort on Sunday by the Maroons was not lost upon Duffy.

“I have never been more proud of 16 softball players than I was on Sunday. That team, on Sunday, gave everything and we played as a cohesive, powerful unit,” Duffy said. “[When] I looked around at the outfield, the dugout or my fellow infielders, I got goosebumps. I saw tears in my teammates’ eyes as Melissa threw that last strike to end the game; I had tears in my eyes too. I saw all of us, at the same time, fighting and wanting and pushing towards a win, and it was one of the best feelings in my life.”

The emotion with which Chicago played in the opener of Sunday’s doubleheader was sorely missing during Saturday’s twin bill against Illinois Wesleyan as they fell 4–1 in the first game and 10–3 in the second.

“When playing [Illinois Wesleyan], we didn’t have our usual fire and spark and we weren’t all working as hard as we possibly could for our goal,” Duffy said.

“Our losses to Wesleyan were tough,” Feibel added. “We hadn’t been swept all season and to have them sweep us was not a good feeling. We needed to adjust better at the plate and to not just stick it on defense but to go all out on every play.”

After dropping the final game of the weekend 4–2 to Carthage, the Maroons now await the release of the national D-III tournament bracket on Monday. Meanwhile, the squad’s focus is now on their physical health and making a few minor adjustments.

“While we wait to hear about the tournament bracket, we are training hard,” Feibel said. “We are working out some little kinks and trying to nurse ourselves back to health. The training room has been busy this week.”