April 12, 2013

Defense the focus against No. 29 North Central Cardinals

Since their game against Illinois Wesleyan on Tuesday was postponed due to inclement weather, the Maroons have shifted their focus to defeating No. 23 North Central College (23–1) on Saturday, which will be a challenge. The South Siders are coming off a busy weekend in which they ended UW–Whitewater’s 16– game winning streak and swept a doubleheader against Lawrence.

The Cardinals have had a very strong season so far, earning a spot in the NCAA’s top 30 on Wednesday for the first time this season. In addition, North Central is undefeated at home, with a 6–0 record at its own field.

However, the South Siders have beaten the Cardinals before, and know they can do it again. Last year’s matchup at Ratner ended in a 2–1 Chicago victory. Though North Central looks stronger this year than it has in the past few, the Maroons are focused on their own game, determined not to be distracted by the reputation of their opponents.

“It doesn’t change my mindset at all,” first-year Kristin Lopez said. “I still have to play at the highest level and approach the North Central game with the same focused intensity as I would any other game.”

Statistically, there is little that separates the two teams. Chicago is batting .340, while North Central has combined for a season average of .351. The Cardinals are led by sophomore Kayla Ante, who has 27 runs scored, the most so far this season, and is batting .412.

The South Siders are about halfway through their season, and still have much they want to improve on. Not only will the Maroons use this game as an opportunity for to judge themselves against one of the best teams in the country, but also as a learning experience.

“We’re trying to improve different things, as a team and individually,” Lopez said. “We’re trying to improve how well we adjust to our opponents’ play. Overall, I think we’ve improved offensively and defensively throughout the season, but if we want to come out on top at the end of the season, we can never stop improving.”

Mainly, the Maroons aim to improve on their defense. The team has done a good job of getting ahead and putting runs on the scoreboard early in the game, but has struggled to prevent runs late in the game. In the second game against UW–Whitewater, defense was the reason for the loss, and the team is working on that.

Despite North Central’s strong season, the Maroons are still heading into the game with confidence.

“The team expects to win, bottom line,” Lopez said. “We have had games this season where we should have come out on top but fell short. I think now we have more confidence that we can beat any team.”

The Maroons will face North Central on the road in Naperville, IL, at noon on Saturday.