The snow may have still been swirling outside Monday morning, but softball was being played inside The Dome at The Ballpark in Rosemont.
Elgin and Hampshire took advantage of the first open time slot this week to kick off their seasons, and the Maroons came away with a 3-2 victory when Caroline Sobeski scored on a grounder by Lissette Sanchez with one out in the bottom of the eighth inning.
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Elgin then completed a sweep for the day with a 7-4 win over Niles West.
"This is nice," said Elgin coach Chad Dahlman of The Dome, which has clearly become the best indoor softball facility in Chicagoland with its two full-size fields and brightness highlighting the spacious venue. "I didn't realize how nice this is. It's pretty realistic here. You get some high bounces off the turf but for the most part everything is legit. I like this. I'd rather be outside but, yeah, this is good."
Dahlman used the opener against Hampshire as an opportunity to start finding his No. 2 pitcher. With junior Jennah Perryman the Maroons' ace, Dahlman is seeking a No. 2 for the Maroons and if freshman Jessica Rago can continue to deliver like she did against the Whip-Purs, Dahlman's search could be over.
After allowing Hampshire 2 runs, only 1 earned, in the top of the first, Rago settled down and didn't allow another hit until Dahlman pulled her in the sixth when Hampshire leadoff hitter Jen Hurst reached on a throwing error.
Rago struck out 4 and walked 3 and allowed only 1 hit in her 5-plus innings of work.
"I was really nervous but it was pretty good," said Rago, who added it took her until the third inning to settle her nerves. "My hitting could have been better but I felt I did good pitching."
So did Dahlman.
"Jess did a good job," he said. "Other than that one earned run she did well. Our No. 2 is up in the air right now and Jess showed me something today. With the JV team not doing much I wanted to see her and she showed me something today. She'll definitely be getting some varsity innings."
Perryman took over with Hurst on first and gave up a bunt single to Jordan Hook but then struck out the side to end the Whips' threat. Perryman struck out 8 of the 9 hitters she faced and didn't allow a hit.
The Maroons made a winner of her in the bottom of the eighth when Sobeski led off with a hard single to the right side. Bri Wright sacrificed her to second and Rago struck out but the ball bounced away from Hampshire catcher Sara Finn and Sobeski reached third. Sanchez then hit a squibber between the circle and second base that easily allowed Sobeski to score the winning run.
"We had some opportunities and didn't get the big hit," said Dahlman, whose team left 9 runners on base. "But we fought and came away with the victory."
Finn and Jen Hurst each drew walks in the first inning, with Finn scoring on Becca Hurst's single and Jen Hurst scoring on an error to give Hampshire a 2-0 lead. But Elgin came back in the bottom of the inning to tie the game. Junior Anna Eckholm singled, was safe at second on an error on Sabrina Stockman's fielder's choice, went to third on a walk to Kelly Bremer and scored when Monica Stockman beat out an infield single. Wright's single drove home Sabrina Stockman to tie the game, but the Maroons left the bases loaded as Jen Hurst got a strikeout to end the inning. She struck out 8 and walked 3 in a complete-game effort.
Jen Hurst also settled down after that and even though Elgin had 8 hits after the first inning, the Maroons stranded five runners in scoring position. In the bottom of the seventh Perryman led off with a deep triple to right-center but Hampshire second baseman Katie Widmayer snared Monica Stockman's line drive with one out and doubled Perryman off third to send the game to extra innings.
"We were hoping that momentum from that double play would carry us into a big inning but (Perryman) was throwing that natural rise and my girls had some trouble with that," said first-year Hampshire coach Stacey Stepek, a Downers Grove South product who played at Division II South Carolina Upstate. "My girls played awesome defense today, we just couldn't push the runs across when we needed them."
Stepek was pleased with Jen Hurst's performance.
"Jen is a great leader on the mound," Stepek said. "She's a silent leader but the girls have a lot of respect for her. She got some big strikeouts when we needed them and Finn did a great job behind the plate."
In its win over Niles West, Elgin scored 3 runs in the first inning and led 5-0 into the bottom of the fifth when Niles West touched Perryman for a run. With a 7-1 lead, Dahlman brough Eckholm in for the bottom of the seventh but went back to Perryman for the final out after the Wolves scored 3 runs and had the tying run at the plate.
Eckholm was 2-for-3 with a stolen base, Sobeski 2-for-3 with 2 doubles and Wright had a double and 2 RBI for the Maroons. Perryman also had a 235-foot ground rule double.
"We were hitting the ball to all parts of the field and that was nice to see," Dahlman said.