Blugold softball ends tournament run Friday
It was deja-vu for the UW-Eau Claire softball team Friday. Well, almost.
On the first day of this year’s WIAC conference tournament, Eau Claire matched up against UW-Whitewater – the same team the Blugolds defeated in last season’s national title game.
That’s where the “almost” comes in; after winning last year’s national championship game against the Warhawks 4-3, the Blugolds dropped Friday’s rematch by an almost-equal margin, losing 4-2.
But the loss was more than just a bit of Whitewater revenge, though; for the Blugolds, who lost 7-6 earlier that day to UW-River Falls, the defeat spelled an end to the team’s conference tournament run and likely an end to its season, coach Leslie Huntington said.
The Blugolds scored first against River Falls, with two runners reaching home in the second inning to give Eau Claire an early 2-0 advantage.
But the Falcons exploded for five runs in the top of the third, scoring four runs off a grand slam and adding another off a single to give River Falls a lead which it never relinquished.
Junior Tamara Zeman said the loss against River Falls came down to mistakes on defense. The Blugolds committed three errors to the Falcons’ two.
“We committed a lot of errors that killed us,” Zeman said, adding the mistakes kept the team from climbing back into the game. “We just couldn’t really catch up.”
River Falls notched eight hits and seven runs against the Blugolds’ starting pitcher, senior Bri Sturm, pitched five innings before trading the pitcher’s circle to freshman Ashley Meinen.
In the Eau Claire-Whitewater game, both teams remained quiet until Whitewater finally opened up a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the fourth.
Eau Claire tied the game on runs in both the fifth and sixth innings, but the Warhawks tallied a pair of single-run homers in the bottom of the sixth to stretch out the margin again. The game ended after Eau Claire failed to recapture the lead or tie things up again in the top of the seventh.
“We hit (Whitewater’s) pitchers really well .” Zeman said, adding Eau Claire played better against Whitewater than it did against River Falls, “but you can’t really defend yourself against balls that go over the fence.”
The Warhawks leveled five hits and two runs against Sturm, who pitched four innings, and tallied a pair of runs on two hits against Meinen, who pitched two innings.
Huntington said there is a chance the team could get a bid to play in the NCAA tournament, but acknowledged the team likely won’t get in.
“I would say our chance of getting a bid is slim to none,” Huntington said, adding the Blugolds’ six-game losing streak will probably work against them. “I don’t like to be negative, but I also want to be realistic in what our chances are.”