The Maroons have spent the entire season in uncertainty, hoping to impress a cadre of strangers well enough to earn an at-large ticket to the postseason.
Enough with the waiting. Chicago has been granted admission to the brutally simple world of playoffs. As long as they win, the storybook magic builds, but lose twice and they’re gone.
“We are very excited to have been selected,” head coach Ruth Kmak said. “We will take each game one at a time and see how far we can go.”
Their regional will take place in Alma, Michigan, making up for the team’s cancelled trip to play Alma earlier in the season.
The double-elimination action begins Thursday, with Chicago matched up against fifth-seeded John Carroll (30–13). There are no familiar faces for the Maroons among John Carroll and their six other potential foes; they faced none of the teams in their region during the regular season.
Win or lose, the Maroons will face either first seed Trine (37–8) or eighth seed Geneva (30–17) on Friday for their second game. Alma (28–12), Denison (27–17), Penn State Behrend (26–13), and Ohio Northern (26–11) round out the field.
“We’ve played some very tough competition to this point and have been involved in pressure situations,” Kmak said, “so our entire lineup is tested and prepared for this level of competition.”
The South Siders have had no common opponents with the Ohio Athletic Conference–champion Blue Streaks, who are in the midst of a five-game winning streak. John Carroll boasts eight regulars hitting over .300 on the season and a team average of .306.
However, the Blue Streaks have had a season-long habit of getting outrun on the bases: They’ve stolen only 15 bases this year and have allowed opponents to snag 38 in 43 attempts. That bodes well for the Maroons, who have made a point of being aggressive on the base paths throughout the year.
John Carroll is expected to start senior righty Brittany Danilov (22–5) against Chicago’s third-year ace Kim Cygan (14–4). Danilov sports an earned run average of 2.52, and has struck out 198 batters in her 180.1 innings of work. Three of the four pitchers for Chicago, though, have lower ERAs, including Cygan with her 0.74 ERA.
The Maroons may have a tentative advantage on paper, but one difficulty will be the weekday schedule of the playoffs.
“We are typically the only team dealing with academic demands [during playoffs],” Kmak said.
Missed classes, extended papers, and rearranged labs shouldn’t damper the excitement of a team that knows what it means to play postseason softball. Chicago’s third- and fourth-years should remember acutely the team’s three postseason games from 2010 when the Maroons came in as the eighth seed and sandwiched a single win between their two losses.
Before that, Chicago made it as an at-large bid in 2007. Since 2000, Kmak’s Maroons have made seven NCAA tournaments, including this year’s.
“We expect to play well, leaving it all on the field in each and every game,” Kmak said. “Our philosophy will continue to be that it doesn’t matter if it is pretty or ugly, we just need to find a way to win each game.”