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The Maroons bowed out of the NCAA D-III softball regional Saturday as they fell to Illinois Wesleyan 7–0 in Chicago’s third and final game of the tournament. Despite the loss, the competition provided great experience for the Maroons, as it was their first trip to Regionals in the last three years.
“It was amazing to have the opportunity to go back to regionals,” fourth-year first baseman Kathleen Duffy said. “My class was the only group of players who [previously] had the chance to go to the NCAAs, and it was so incredible to be able to lead our younger teammates there so they could experience postseason.”
“Our team is really young and has so much potential, and I was so proud of everyone for pushing themselves,” Duffy added.
Chicago trailed throughout the game against Illinois Wesleyan, as the Titan batters had their way with Maroon pitching in the first inning. The Titans took advantage of Maroon errors to score five runs off of four hits before second-year pitcher Sarah Neuhaus, who was selected for the All-Great Lakes Regional Team on Monday, was replaced by first-year Kim Cygan.
Cygan held Illinois Wesleyan hitless over five innings, although she did give up two walks in the sixth inning which would come in to score after she was relieved by first-year Melissa Collins.
The Chicago bats failed to get off the ground as dominant pitching by Titan fourth-year Christy Engel restricted the Maroons to three hits over five innings.
The Maroons, who entered the tournament as the bottom seed, exited regional competition with a 1–2 record after falling to Linfield in their opening game, as well as recording a win against Central in their first two games over the weekend.
On Thursday, Chicago faced the tournament favorites and eventual champions. Neuhaus got the Maroons off to a good start, retiring the first three batters she faced. Things headed south for Chicago after that as the Wildcats offense sprang to life.
First-year third baseman Karleigh Prestianni led off the second inning for Linfield with a solo home run, which was quickly followed by a two-run blast from second-year designated player Sami Keim. The Wildcats then loaded the bases for second-year catcher Emilee Lepp to extend the lead with a four-run grand slam. Prestianni then stepped up to hit her second home run of the inning before the Maroons could get the outs they needed to close out a tough inning.
Although the Maroons were unable to recover, homers from Neuhaus and second-year second baseman Julia Schneider provided a positive note as the team fell to a 13–5 loss.
“I’m so proud of the team for not giving up,” Chicago fourth-year third baseman Lauren White said. “We ended up scoring the most runs of anyone against Linfield, and even though we didn’t score against Wesleyan, our hitting improved each inning.”
The highlight of the competition for the Maroons came in their second game on Friday, when they strode to a comprehensive 8-2 win over Central.
Neuhaus and Cygan combined to hold the Dutch to just two runs. Offensively, the Maroons seized the game in the second inning. A single by third-year catcher Sarah Whaley brought in Duffy, while a two-run double to left field from Neuhaus gave Chicago a firm lead. The team added runs in both the fourth and fifth with runs from Neuhaus and Cygan respectively. A solo home run to lead off the seventh from Neuhaus, followed by a two-run double by Duffy, put the game out of Central’s reach.
“Beating Central was amazing because we shut them up with our presence on defense, in the batter’s box and in the dugout,” Duffy said. “They had at least 25 players with them and our 16 were louder than them. We out-hustled, out-played and out-cheered them! Everyone stepped it up to send the annoying Dutch home!”
“Our win against Central was great, especially for a team that had been out of the tournament for a couple of years,” White added.
The team has good reason to be proud. To lose at this level stands more as a testament to the talent and determination of the team than anything else. As Duffy summed it up, “We played at the level of the best teams in the country and made it to the top 30 teams left.”