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May 1, 2012

Second-game assault salvages split at Carthage

Unearned runs may be worth the same as their unqualified brethren, but they change the complexion of a game. The Maroons learned that lesson the hard way on Sunday as they allowed five unearned runs in the first game of a doubleheader.

Chicago (23–9) gave its first game away against #19 Carthage College (32–6) with a flurry of ill-timed errors. Still, it almost took it back with a dramatic seventh-inning rally, ultimately falling 5–4.

The Maroons stayed aggressive throughout the nightcap, though, to earn a 7–3 win in their third-to-last game of the year.

“Our defensive play was uncharacteristic of our team,” head coach Ruth Kmak said about the first game. “They hit the ball hard and we didn’t make the plays we needed.”

Calamity struck in the bottom of the first inning in game one, with two runners reaching on errors for two runs. Fourth-year Liz Payonk put the Maroons back within one with her team-leading fifth home run of the season, a solo shot in the second inning, but the Maroons couldn’t string together any offense. They left a runner stranded on base in each of the next four innings.

By the time the South Siders’ offense stirred, the Lady Reds had made the score 5–1, with an error extending the fifth inning by an extra out and allowing three runners to score. Third-year Kim Cygan (13–4) took the loss, even as she allowed no earned runs on eight hits. Catcher Zoe Oliver-Grey, Payonk, and third-year Samantha Hobson did their best to carry the offense, getting two hits each out of the Maroons’ eight.

Timely hitting and characteristically aggressive baserunning almost turned the game around, as the Maroons rattled off three straight hits and had two runners reach on fielder’s choices with one out. However, Krystina Leazer (22–3) retired the away side’s final batter with the tying and go-ahead runs in scoring position.

Kmak called Chicago’s rally “fantastic,” attributing the team’s more successful second game to the added momentum.

“We took the momentum from the final inning of the first game and carried it into the second game,” Kmak said, “in the aggressive, team-style hitting offense that is effective for us.”

However, the Maroons were slow to start again in the second game as Carthage knocked in two runs off of first-year Emily Ashbridge in the second inning, and the Maroons left the bases loaded in the third.

But an RBI single from second-year Maddie McManus and a hard-hit single to left field by Oliver-Grey tied the game in the fourth, as Chicago took the lead on a Payonk single to center field in the top of the fifth. Refusing to rest with the lead, its offense exploded in the sixth, as fourth-year Julia Schneider emptied the bases with a three-RBI double as part of a four-run inning.

Along with Ashbridge, first-year Tabbetha Bohac and fourth-year Sarah Neuhaus combined to hold Carthage to three runs, two of them earned. Neuhaus (8–4) earned the win with four innings of three-hit ball.

The Maroons return home Tuesday for Senior Day against North Central with their playoff position still up in the air; they will have to wait for conference play to boil down before receiving a decision from the NCAAs selection committee on Monday.

Stagg Field will say goodbye to three fourth-years and key contributors: Neuhaus, Payonk, and Schneider.

“We will celebrate three wonderful careers, on and off the field,” said Kmak of her fourth-years. “We need to go out fighting, playing our best in hopes of a postseason bid.”

Because of scheduling conflicts, the Maroons’ doubleheader against Alma, which was planned for Sunday, was cancelled, and the Carthage fixture moved from Saturday to Sunday.

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