Blugolds clinch conference title, will host WIAC tournament
As part of Senior Day celebrations for the UW-Eau Claire softball team on Sunday, the team’s four seniors were given commemorative plaques and flowers with dirt from their positions on Gelein Field.
A conference championship to go with it was a pretty nice gift as well.
The Blugolds defeated UW-Whitewater Sunday 2-1 and 5-4 to win their first Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference regular season title since 2006. The team increased its winning streak to 14 games, also the first time since 2006.
“This is something that all the seniors have worked really hard for these past four years, and to finally have that just feels so great,” said senior Jess Freagon, who doubled and walked twice in the second game.
Eau Claire coach Leslie Huntington said she couldn’t be more proud of her team and the way they persevered all season long.
“I know that there’s a tremendous amount of fight in them,” Huntington said. “Their demeanor and their composure is to be commended.”
The Blugolds turned to sophomore Emma Wishau in game one and she responded with an excellent outing, throwing a complete game and allowing one run on seven hits. Huntington said the coaching staff was pleased with Wishau’s execution of the game plan.
Wishau said Eau Claire’s defense played a large role in her strong outing but also felt she had some things working in the pitcher’s circle.
“My drop balls were looking pretty decent,” Wishau said. “Change-ups were a little iffy today, but at least we kept them on their toes.”
Eau Claire’s only runs in game one came on a two-run home run by freshman Taylor Pierce in the third inning. The team had just four hits in game one, and Huntington said she wished the team had put more runs on the board, but the team did enough to get the win.
Game two was another thriller. Senior pitcher Ashley Meinen started strong, retiring eight in a row at one point but gave up four consecutive hits in the fourth inning and was pulled from the game with the team trailing 3-1. Freshman Laura Raflik and Wishau covered the final 3.2 innings, with Wishau allowing a single run in the sixth.
The Blugolds scored four times in the fifth inning to take a 5-3 lead. Two more seniors, Emily Muller and Nikki Bromelkamp, provided the game-tying and go-ahead base hits, respectively. Muller also made a great defensive play in game one, throwing out Whitewater’s Samie Seamon at home on a relay throw as she tried to score the tying run in the fourth inning.
After scoring a run in the sixth, the Warhawks went down in order in the seventh, with Wishau snagging a comebacker for the final out.
The team mobbed each other near the pitcher’s circle, posed for pictures with each other and family members and doused Huntington with a bucket of water to celebrate.
A soaking-wet Huntington said the players will have the next two days off, but the coaching staff will get right to work in preparation for the WIAC conference tournament, which begins Friday. She also said the setting Sunday could not have been better for the team.
“Any time something like this happens when you’re honoring your seniors and playing at home, it couldn’t have been much more fitting,” Huntington said.
By winning the WIAC regular season title, Eau Claire earned the right to host the conference tournament. Freagon said hosting the tournament will be a huge benefit for the team.
“We’re undefeated at home still, so we’re really excited,” Freagon said. “We’ll just get back to work on Wednesday.”