Softball ends break strongly

Story by Nick Gourdoux

When spring break started, the UW-Eau Claire softball team looked to end the winless streak it found itself in after a slow finish to the National Fastpitch Coaches Association Leadoff Classic.

The Blugolds brought a four-game losing streak to Pella, Iowa March 27, when they played a doubleheader against Central College (Iowa). The Blugolds lost both games, in large part due to early deficits that the team found themselves in. After the second inning of both games, Eau Claire trailed 4-0. A comeback attempt fell short in the first game, as Eau Claire fell 5-3, while the Blugolds failed to cross home plate in the second game, eventually losing 5-0.

The Blugolds traveled to Indianola, Iowa the next day for a doubleheader against Simpson College (Iowa) but once again found themselves on the wrong side of a sweep. Again, it was early-inning runs that did Eau Claire in.

In the first game of the doubleheader, the Blugolds gave up one run in the bottom of the first. The run was the only one of the game for either team. The 1-0 loss increased the Blugolds’ scoreless streak to 14 consecutive innings.

“We still had a chance – even though we gave up a couple runs, we were still in the ball game,” senior Tamara Zeman said. “We have a chance to take those big hits and defensive plays, so we aren’t stuck in that hole the whole game.”

The streak eventually ended after 16 scoreless innings, when senior Katie Stalker scored on senior Ainsley Klar’s single to center field in the top of the third inning. Unfortunately, early-inning troubles once again plagued Eau Claire, as Simpson College boasted a 5-0 lead entering the third inning. The Blugolds were unable to overcome the early deficit, eventually falling 5-3.

On Tuesday, the Blugolds found themselves in Bloomington, Ill., playing a doubleheader against Illinois Wesleyan University. Eau Claire surrendered a two-out, RBI double down the left-field line in the bottom of the sixth and was unable to answer in the top of the seventh to fall 2-1 in the opener. A four-run fifth inning did in the Blugolds in the second game, as they eventually lost 7-1.

Ranked No. 21 nationally, the University of Chicago was the Blugolds’ next doubleheader opponent on Thursday. Trailing 5-4 in the top of the seventh, Eau Claire scored two runs – on an RBI single by sophomore Aleisha Harper and on an RBI double by Klar – to take the 6-5 lead into the bottom of the seventh. Sophomore pitcher Ashley Meinen surrendered a hit in the inning but recorded three outs without giving up the lead, putting an end to the 10-game losing streak the Blugolds were on.

Early-inning issues returned for Eau Claire in the second game. The Blugolds surrendered eight runs in the first inning and two more in the third inning. Eau Claire did have a three-run fourth inning but could not overcome the early deficit, losing 10-4.

“We get runners on, so it’s just a matter of timely hitting instead of hitting,” Zeman said.

In Forest Park, Ill., the Blugolds did end the week on a high note with a pair of victories over Dominican College (Ill.). In the first game, Eau Claire nearly blew a 5-1 lead by giving up three runs in the bottom of the sixth inning but was able to pull out the 5-4 victory. In the second game, the Blugolds scored three runs in the top of the seventh inning to put the game out of reach at 5-1.

Following the spring break trip, the Blugolds didn’t have much down time before returning to the field.

“We haven’t had an opportunity to practice,” Zeman said. “We’ve had one practice, and it rained (Tuesday).”

On Wednesday the Blugolds played a doubleheader against St. Mary’s and won both times. The team won the first matchup 5-3 and then claimed a 9-1 victory in the five-inning second game. Wednesday’s games were the first games of the season played at Gelein field – the site of this year’s NCAA Division III Softball championships.

“It’s . nice knowing we have the last half of the inning – we haven’t been the home team since our first game of the season,” Zeman said. “It’s . nice to play in front of our community, our fans and our friends.”

Eau Claire plays its first conference opponents Thursday against UW-River Falls, in River Falls.