Clutch hitting, solid defense give Lady Bears 4 victories

| Senior Sports Editor
Jared Bullock

Senior Ashton Hitchcock readies her bat. Hitchcock led the Washington University softball team with a five-RBI performance as the Bears defeated Illinois Wesleyan University twice on Saturday.

Zero.

That’s the number of errors  the Washington University softball team committed in the last four games, in their doubleheader sweeps of Millikin University and Illinois Wesleyan University. That’s the stat that players and coaches are proud of. “I’m very, very proud of our defense, especially our infield,” senior co-captain Ashton Hitchcock said. “We’ve been working really hard in practice, working on fundamentals, keeping our gloves down.”

Hitchcock fueled the offense with a five-RBI performance against the Titans on Saturday.

Junior Claire Voris and sophomore Olivia Cook had strong performances in the pitcher’s circle, picking up two wins apiece this week. “Both of the pitchers were hitting all of their spots,” freshman catcher Sondra Polonsky said. “It was easy for me to call the [Illinois Wesleyan] game because everything was working, and they had a great defense behind them.”

Down 1-0 with two runners on and two outs in the fourth inning against the Titans, Hitchcock walked up to the plate. “I usually go up the same way no matter what the score is,” Hitchcock said. “I go up thinking, ‘Put the ball in play.’ I have faith in my base runners that they’ll score on anything.”

Hitchcock’s double to the right-field fence scored senior Megan Fieser and Polonsky from second and third, respectively. Senior Ally Berenter chipped in a home run to left-center field in the fifth inning. A combination of singles and stolen bases gave the Bears two more insurance runs in the bottom of the sixth inning as the Red and Green ran to victory. Voris entered the game in the fifth after Cook gave up a run, earning her first career save.

In Saturday’s first game against the Titans, spectators called it a pitching duel. Illinois Wesleyan’s Christy Engel struck out nine, walked six and allowed one hit and two errors. Voris struck out nine, walked three and allowed just two hits.

The scoring was all on account of base running. Fieser singled in the first inning, stole second, then third, before reaching home plate on a Titan fielding error. Fieser is 16 for 16 in stolen base attempts this season.

Freshman Ashley Janssen walked and then stole second. The right fielder then advanced to third on a groundout by Fieser before scoring on another Titan fielding error.

Hitchcock struck early against the Big Blue, sending the second pitch of the game out of the park. “Home runs to me are accidents,” Hitchcock said. “I just focus on hitting the ball well.” The offense stalled as Millikin caught up to Wash. U. in the first.

The 1-1 deadlock did not end until the 10th inning, as Voris and the Big Blue’s Whitney Schafman continued to stifle batters from both sides. Senior Caitlyn Hoffman dropped a single, scoring pinch runner freshman Kathy Peter from second. Voris then shut the door, inducing three pop-ups.

Wash. U.’s offense woke up in the second frame, delivering 13 hits in a 7-1 victory. The Bears strung together several hits in a row to deliver runners home as Cook gave up just five hits and one earned run en route to victory.

Looking to the future

The Bears are aware of their biggest weakness: consistency. “If we can remain consistent and grow from our mistakes, we can be a much better ball club,” head coach Leticia Pineda-Boutté said.  “We just have to come together and peak at the right time.”

One of the things keeping the team together is chemistry. Regardless of the situation, the Lady Bears root one another on. “Our team gets along better than any team in my life,” Polonsky said.

The Red and Green are off to Grinnell, Iowa, to play in the Hy-Vee Classic on Friday and Saturday. “Every game we see where we set the bar the game before,” Hitchcock said. “Each time we take it a step further.”