Softball begins season with mixed results, loses four

Story by Nick Gourdoux

The only bright spot of the UW-Eau Claire softball team’s trip to sunny Panama City Beach, Fla., was the first day of the six-game, three-day National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) Leadoff Classic.

“We just didn’t play to our potential, but I don’t think it has anything to do with us not being ready for the games this weekend; we knew back in the fall when our first games were,” senior catcher Bekki Kidnie said. “I think we just didn’t come out and play.”

The Blugolds opened the tournament with a thrilling extra-innings win over Alma College (Mich.). Eau Claire got out to an early 2-0 lead in the second inning and built the lead to 4-1 in the fourth inning. Alma tied the game, however, at four, with a run in the top of the seventh inning.

In the bottom half of the extra frame, the Blugolds found themselves trailing 5-4 with two outs and a runner on second. Junior Sara Baumgartner singled in a run and advanced to second to tie the game at five. Sophomore Nikki Bromelkamp, Eau Claire’s next batter, then singled, driving in sophomore pinch-runner Jess Freagon to win the game.

The second game of the opening day was much different, despite ending with the same result – an Eau Claire victory. In just the first inning against Farmingdale (N.Y.), the Blugolds scored 12 runs. The game, which only lasted five innings, ended in a 17-4 victory for Eau Claire. Freshman pitcher Jess Hegseth picked up the win.

Days two and three weren’t as kind to the Blugolds, as they dropped their next four games. In their third game of the tournament, the Blugolds were paired up with the undefeated East Texas Baptist Tigers. Eau Claire scored a run in the top half of the first inning but surrendered the lead in the third. The Tigers went on to win with a score of 8-2.

“One thing I think we need to work on is executing on offense when we have people on bases,” Kidnie said. “Some people were getting into scoring position and good situations, and our hitters sometimes couldn’t execute.”

Later that day, the Blugolds played a game against Central College (Iowa) that had considerably less scoring. It was Central that crossed home plate in the first inning, with a pair of runs coming in on a single. Eau Claire was unable to score at all in the game and eventually lost by a score of 2-0.

On the final day of the tournament, the Blugolds played Alma College (Mich.) and Ramapo College (N.J.).

Against Alma, the Blugolds took a 2-1 lead into Alma’s half of the second inning. That was when things got out of hand. Eau Claire gave up six runs in the bottom of the second inning while walking one and committing two errors. The Blugolds never overcame the deficit and eventually lost 10-6.

The final game of the tournament was much closer. Both Eau Claire and Ramapo scored a run in the third inning and took a 1-1 tie into the final frame. Junior Kaity Acker doubled in sophomore Emily Muller in the top of the seventh inning to take a 2-1 lead.

“In practice it’s hard to make pressure situations because we have to fabricate them ourselves,” Kidnie said. “The more we scrimmage each other, and the more we play in actual games, I think we will be able to step up to the challenge. ”

Needing to only record three outs in the bottom half of the inning to win, the Blugolds got off to a good start by retiring the first batter Ramapo sent to the plate. Unfortunately, two hits and an error later, the Blugolds found themselves on the wrong side of a 3-2 come-from-behind victory.

The softball team will return to action this weekend when it plays a pair of double-headers – one against Central College (Iowa) and one against Simpson College (Iowa). The Blugolds won’t play their first home game until April 7, when they host a double-header against St. Mary’s (Minn.).

“Central is a really good team; they’ve had a lot of great success in the past, and we’ve had a lot of really good games with them,” Kidnie said. “We’re not going to be able to play bad and beat them; we’re going to have to play well.”