Misfortune on the West Coast

The UW-Eau Claire women’s softball team made a trip to Orange County, Calif., during spring break but not for the purpose of a vacation.

Instead, the team competed in the 46-team Sun West Tournament, which consisted mostly of teams from the California area.

The tournament brought out mixed results for the team, said coach Leslie Huntington, whose squad finished its West Coast trip with a 3-8 record.

Huntington said she would’ve liked to have won more games, but the tournament enabled her to play younger players and that is where she saw the most progress.

Another factor that contributed to the team’s record was the fact that the majority of the teams already had been practicing outside due to the warm weather there, she said.

“Prior to this trip, we haven’t played on dirt,” Huntington said. “We were able to mix and match our team and get lots of playing in and establish our depth.”

The 3-8 start is something the team has witnessed before, sophomore centerfielder/shortstop Megan Richardson said.

Last year, the team finished the Sun West Tournament with a 4-6 record, and went 2-2 back home before facing off against its first conference rival. In the WIAC conference, the Blugolds found success, losing only one out of 10 games. Eau Claire led the WIAC in the regular season, but fell short of the title and an NCAA berth by dropping two games to UW-Superior.

This year, the ‘Golds, who are ranked No. 19 in the USA Today/National Fastpitch Coaches Association Div. III preseason poll, are favored to claim the WIAC title after receiving five first-place votes in the league rankings.

“In a way, it is nice to be picked to finish first,” junior shortstop Emilee Planert said. “Hopefully we’ll live up to (the prediction).”

Planert, an All-WIAC First Team and All-Great Lakes Region Third Team selection last season, was not with the team for the trip because of her commitment to the women’s basketball team. With the season over, she said she is ready to get back into playing softball.

“I’m taking a couple of days to get myself back into the mind-set of softball,” she said. “Hopefully I can add a little spark, not just physically, but also emotionally.”

The first two games of the tournament pitted Eau Claire against State University of New York Institute of Technology and Central College (Iowa), but the heavy rainstorms canceled both games.

The Blugolds first action of the season came against Menlo (Calif.), which dealt Eau Claire its first loss, 2-0. The ‘Golds dropped a 4-3 decision to St. Mary’s (Minn.) later that day.

Eau Claire’s first win came against Babson (Mass.), with Richardson knocking in freshman outfielder Danielle Moon for the 5-4 victory in 8 innings. The ‘Golds then went on a three-game losing streak, falling to Dana (Neb.), 9-8 and 7-1, and to Savannah A&D (Ga.), 3-0.

The Blugolds regrouped and beat Tufts (Mass.) 5-1 behind a complete game five-hitter outing by senior pitcher Kim Czapla. The next three games, however, provided Eau Claire with more problems, as it lost all three by a combined score of 20-1.

The main problem the team dealt with throughout the tournament was hitting, Richardson said. The Blugolds’ lack of offense was a major factor in determining their current record, but she added that she is proud of how well the defense is performing.

“We are doing awesome on defense,” Richardson said. “Once we get our hitting down, we’ll be much better.”

Eau Claire ended the tournament on a positive note, beating Plattsburgh State (N.Y.) 6-3, behind a complete game, five-hitter thrown by freshman pitcher Molly Johnson. She allowed three runs, with only one earned.

Johnson said she feels that she needs to work on her pitching more and that the tournament was a good start for her.

The Blugolds’ next match is this Sunday against Winona State (Minn.) at Winona. After that matchup, Eau Claire will get its first taste of WIAC competition against UW-La Crosse, who finished behind the Blugolds last year with an 8-4 conference record.

“Our goal is to finish high in the conference, but our main goal is doing well in the conference tournament,” Huntington said. “We need to develop a killer-instinct mentality.”