Despite losing in the regional finals of this year's NCAA Division III tournament, the University of Chicago women's softball team (29-11) waged one of its most successful seasons in program history. The team's 29 wins were the most in the program's 37-year history.
The Maroons reached the regional finals and, for the second straight season, the trip ended in a loss. Although Chicago won its first three games in the tournament, it lost two straight in a crucial Monday final against host Alma College (39-7).
"With Alma we wanted to keep them off the board in the first two innings," head coach Ruth Kmak said. "In the second game our plan worked well, but they just got that one run in extra innings. We executed well all tournament, but we just couldn't get that last hit."
All season long the Maroons were led by their excellent pitching rotation, especially second-year ace Hannah Roberts. Chicago's starting staff of Roberts and first-years Lauren Hula and Petra Wade accumulated a collective ERA of 0.65, the second-best total in Division III.
Thanks to the Maroons' excellent pitching, opponents were held to a .160 batting average over the course of the season. Chicago's pitching trio only allowed an average of 1.3 runs per game this season.
Individually, Roberts had probably the most dominant season of any Chicago pitcher in history. Her 0.25 ERA shattered the old mark of 0.61, which she set a year ago. Her 19 wins also broke the old record of 18. She had 11 shutouts, three more than the previous record. She also struck out an incredible 226 batters over the course of the season. For the second straight year, Roberts was named as an All-American, this time to the second-team.
Despite the records and awards, Roberts remained disappointed in the team's finish. "I felt that this season was one full of potential, but it seems that we just came up a little short in the big games; that seemed to characterize both the regular and postseason."
Roberts added, "Although I was very proud of our team, I can't feel that we were fully successful when I know we have higher potential. For me, this season will only be a success if it drives us to that next level, from being a good team to a great team."
During the final third of the season, the Maroon offense just couldn't get the big hits it needed to win games. During the final twelve games of the season, Chicago only averaged 1.3 runs in each game and was shut out five times in six losses.
In Kmak's opinion, the decreased run production was not a matter of execution. "Our execution was overall very good," she said. "we got our sacrifice bunts down when we needed. We just couldn't get those final hits to win."
Second-year third baseman Kayti Fuhr led the team in batting average with a season average of .331. Third-year Annie Yaniga led the team in RBIs (28), home runs (2), and triples (6). Second-year Rachel Cohen also added two home runs of her own, including a walk-off grand slam.
The team only loses two seniors this year and looks to come back strong next season. The pitching staff will be back in its entirety and could add another arm or two in the incoming class. "I think there will be a little more urgency next year," Kmak said. "We will have added another year of experience, and we're going to have a better idea of what we need to work on: hitting."
The experience that the young core of the team has gained in the past two years should push them towards future tournament success. "[Our tournament experience] should give us motivation going into next year, especially because our team is young and still maturing," Roberts said. "I think we realized that we are a very good team and can potentially step it up to the next level with a little more focus and effort."