Softball continues to march

Chris Kemp

Riding a 10-game winning streak coming into the Eau Claire Invitational, the UW-Eau Claire softball team kept its streak unscathed in the first two games of the tournament on Saturday, coasting to wins over both Elmhurst College (Ill.) and the University of Minnesota-Morris.

But Sunday the streak stopped at 12, as the Blugolds lost a 2-1 heartbreaker in an extra inning affair with St. Scholastica (Minn.).

The Blugolds opened up the tournament with a convincing win over Elmhurst, allowing two hits and no runs en route to a 6-0 win.

“We came out and attacked right away,” sophomore pitcher Mallory McKinney said “Everything seemed to just flow together really well.”

McKinney led the way for the Blugolds from the mound, striking out six and walking only one, on her way to a two-hit shutout.

McKinney’s arm wasn’t the only thing getting the job done for Eau Claire on Saturday. Her bat also provided the Blugolds with a lift, as she started the run scoring early by blasting a two-run home run in the bottom of the first to give the Blugolds a 2-0 lead.

Freshman shortstop Casey Leisgang kept the ‘Golds offense going in the second inning with an RBI single, and later picked up another RBI in the fifth inning with a solo shot.

The Blugolds added a pair of runs in the sixth and put the bats away until later that afternoon, when they unloaded them for 16 runs on the University of Minnesota-Morris in the nightcap.

The Blugold bats were fierce in the second game, as Eau Claire tallied 18 hits as a team, with five different players recording multi-hit games in a 16-2 victory.

“Our defense has been consistently solid all year,” junior outfielder Stephanie Farenbaugh said. “When we can get our bats going like we did, it’s hard to beat us.”

With a comfortable 6-2 lead heading into the sixth inning, the Blugolds decided to test the dexterity of their statistician, pushing across 10 runs on 13 at-bats, including a grand-slam by freshman Jill Janke.

Junior pitcher Andrea Neuville earned her seventh win of the year in the game, allowing only two runs on two hits in five innings, pushing her season record to 7-2.

Although the two wins were nothing to smirk at, Coach Leslie Huntington said it would be the St. Scholastica game that would provide the biggest challenge of the weekend for the Blugolds.

“They were a top 10 team last year,” she said. “They have a great pitcher and a great coaching staff, so we knew it was going to be a close game.”

The most anticipated game of the tournament turned out to be an old-fashioned pitchers duel, as both teams refused to budge from a 1-1 tie until late in extra innings, when St. Scholastica singled in the winning run in the top of the ninth and handed the Blugolds a 2-1 loss, their first in 12 games.

“It was an outstanding game between two very good teams,” Huntington said. “We just had a couple key situations where we didn’t execute.”
McKinney and former All-American St. Scholastica pitcher Laura Heise dominated the game, as each pitched a near-perfect nine innings.
The scorekeeper remained idle until the fourth inning, when Leisgang led things off with her fifth homerun of the year, giving the Blugolds the first lead of the game at 1-0.

But St. Scholastica struck back right away in the fifth, scoring on a single to lock the score at 1-1 and end McKinney’s streak of 14 innings pitched without giving up an earned run.

After three innings of scoreless play, St. Scholastica pushed across what looked to be the winning run, but in the bottom of the ninth, the Blugolds crept closer, advancing a runner to third with only one out.
The Blugolds were unable to push across the tying run on their last two outs and fell to St. Scholastic in nine innings 2-1.

“This loss isn’t going to hurt us,” Huntington said. “We needed to play a good team in a close game like this. I think it’ll make us better.”
The Blugolds wasted no time recovering from the loss, as they closed the tournament out with an 8-0 win over Northland College in Sunday’s nightcap.

Sophomore catcher Amanda Bretl was the driving force for the Blugolds, slugging her first two homeruns of the season and going 2-for-3 from the plate with four RBIs. Junior Terisa Syvertsen also picked up her first home run of the year, as well as a pair of RBIs. Neuville turned in another solid performance from the mound, as she went five innings without a run and surrendered only two hits.

Athletic Director Scott Kilgallon, who was on hand for the tournament, praised the softball team for not only its 3-1 record over the weekend, but also its effort the entire season.

“We have some excellent coaches and a great group of kids with a great attitude, so I think their success will continue,” he said.

The Blugolds will be off until 3 p.m. Thursday when they travel to La Crosse to battle the Eagles in a double-header.