Softball’s streak end in conference tournament, still qualifies for NCAAs
The UW-Eau Claire softball team was eliminated from the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference tournament Sunday with a 4-3 loss to UW-River Falls.
The Blugolds, the top seed in the double-elimination tournament, also lost to UW-Whitewater 4-1 Saturday, which snapped a 16-game winning streak and gave the team their first home loss of the season. After Sunday, the team suddenly has a two-game losing streak heading into the NCAA Div. III Softball Championship.
The loss to River Falls was a sloppy one for the Blugolds, who committed four errors and could not come through with a clutch base hit. Senior pitcher Ashley Meinen, the tough-luck loser against Whitewater and River Falls, said the team seemed flat in Sunday’s loss.
“All around, it was not a very good day for our team,” Meinen said. “We were kind of playing not to lose rather than playing to win, and River Falls came out playing to win.”
Meinen threw complete games against both Whitewater and River Falls and yielded only two earned runs combined. But a total of seven Eau Claire errors came back to haunt the team in both losses.
Blugolds coach Leslie Huntington said the defensive mistakes were frustrating to watch.
“It’s basic fundamental things that we’re not doing,” Huntington said. “But it is what it is, and when it happens, you’ve got to move on.”
Senior shortstop Emily Muller also said the team must shore up its defense quickly.
“You have to play your best ball … and it’s key that we put it all together at the same time,” Muller said. “We’ll be spending a lot of time in practice this week going back to the fundamentals.”
The team defeated UW-Oshkosh and UW-Stout in its first two tournament games before the loss to Whitewater. The Blugolds had just four hits — all singles — and struck out six times against Whitewater freshman pitcher Bekka Houda, who improved to 11-3 with the win.
The Blugolds fell victim to another excellent pitching performance on Sunday, this time against River Falls senior Rose Tusa. Tusa, the 2011 WIAC Pitcher of the Year, struck out 10 and only allowed one earned run to move to 21-6 on the season. Huntington said she was extremely impressed with Tusa’s pitching during the entire tournament.
“She was able to hit her spots, control her pitches and make them move,” Huntington said. “My hat is off to her; she’s an outstanding pitcher.”
The Blugolds did get some good news Monday after the disappointing weekend. They were awarded an at-large bid and a No. 4 seed in the Bloomington Regional of the Div. III tournament. The team’s first game is on Thursday against No. 5 seed Fontbonne University (Mo.), whom the Blugolds defeated 8-2 on April 15.
Despite the consecutive losses, Huntington said the team still feels it can make a postseason run.
“I don’t think we’ve really lost a lot of momentum,” Huntington said. “I think that this team has a lot of confidence in what they can do.
“Now that it’s time for NCAA play, it’s a brand new season, and all bets are off.”
Eau Claire’s first regional game is scheduled to begin at 12 p.m. Thursday at Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington, Ill.