Softball closes regular season at .500

Story by Nick Gourdoux

Entering the final weekend of the regular season, the UW-Eau Claire softball team looked to finish the season above .500. With a 17-17 record and a pair of doubleheaders against WIAC rivals, accomplishing that goal would require at least three victories.

“We wanted to win all four games,” junior outfielder Sara Baumgartner said. “We wanted to gain some confidence going into this weekend’s WIAC tournament. We were hoping that we were going to finish tied for first in the conference – we needed some help from Superior – but that was our main goal.”

Unfortunately for Eau Claire, they only managed two wins.

In Friday’s first game against UW-Platteville, three consecutive three-run innings propelled the Blugolds to a 12-1 victory in five innings. In the second game of the series, it was once again a big inning that pushed the Blugolds to victory.

Entering the seventh inning, the game was tied at three. With two outs and a runner on first, Eau Claire’s offense exploded. Six runners crossed the plate on four hits before the half inning ended. Even though they stranded three runners on base, the Blugolds took their 9-3 lead into the bottom half of the inning. Freshman pitcher Kassie Krummel tossed a perfect inning to preserve the win.

Needing only one win to ensure their seventh consecutive 20-win season, and seventh consecutive season with more wins than losses, the Blugolds entered Saturday’s doubleheader against UW-La Crosse with high hopes.

La Crosse had something to fight for, too. A pair of victories for the Eagles would give them a perfect 16-0 record on the season in WIAC games. Unfortunately for Eau Claire, it was La Crosse’s goals that were met.

While the Blugolds relied on the big inning against Platteville to win, it was the big inning that did them in against La Crosse. The first game of the doubleheader saw the Eagles score three runs in the bottom of the third inning and four runs in the bottom of the fifth inning en route to a 7-4 victory.

The Eagles once again recorded a four-run fifth inning in the second game as a part of their 5-4 victory. The Blugolds managed three runs in the second inning and one in the fifth but could not overcome their opponents in the bottom of the fifth.

“I think we played La Crosse very tough,” Baumgartner said. “I talked to a couple of their players, and they said that we’re one of the best teams they’ve played this season.”

Despite finishing the regular season 19-19, the Blugolds have plenty of stats to look at to build hope for the postseason. Eau Claire’s 11-5 WIAC record is good enough for second place in the conference, behind
only La Crosse.

As a result, the Blugolds will play No. 5 seed UW-Oshkosh in the first game of the WIAC championship Friday. Eau Claire split two games against Oshkosh April 26.

The Blugolds also boast a 9-1 record in games played at Eau Claire’s Gelein Field – a noteworthy statistic considering the fact that the NCAA National Championship is going to be played at Gelein Field.

“Playing here in Eau Claire, we have a great fan base – so many more fans could come watch us, and a lot of our family members, too,” Baumgartner said. “We could keep our normal schedule, and it would be awesome to play in the national tournament here in Eau Claire.”