Softball season ends in WIAC tournament

Story by Nick Gourdoux

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In the double-elimination WIAC tournament, the UW-Eau Claire softball went undefeated on day one and winless on day two.

The Blugolds opened up the tournament with a stunning, come-from-behind victory over UW-Oshkosh. Trailing 7-4 in the bottom of the seventh inning, sophomore Jess Freagon hit a pinch-hit, three-run home run to tie the game at seven with one out before freshman Emily Haluska scored the winning run on a bases loaded, two-out error by the Titans’ shortstop.

The 8-7 win advanced the Blugolds to the second round of the tournament where they played UW-Whitewater. Sophomore pitcher Ashley Meinen threw a phenomenal game, limiting Whitewater to zero runs and five hits in five innings before being relieved by freshman Kassie Krummel, who recorded the save despite giving up one run. On offense, the Blugolds scored a run in the top of the second and another in the top of the fourth en route to the 2-1 victory.

On day two, the Blugolds opened the day with a game against heavily favored UW-La Crosse. Boasting an impressive 35-6 overall record, La Crosse limited Eau Claire to no runs on two hits in the game. La Crosse scored five runs on 10 hits in their 5-0 victory. The game marked only the fourth time all season that the Blugolds had been shutout and the first time since March 28. Unfortunately for Eau Claire, the time between shutouts wasn’t nearly as long.

“The WIAC is always a really hard conference and I think that, for the most part, we held our own,” senior Bekki Kidnie said. “The games we lost – against La Crosse and Whitewater – was some of the best pitching we’ve seen all season.”

In the final game of the tournament, the Blugolds were once again paired up with UW-Whitewater, and were once again shut out. Eau Claire surrendered six runs in the top of the second inning, and another in the top of the fifth. The offensive side of the game wasn’t kind to Eau Claire either. In 23 plate appearances, the Blugolds managed two base runners – senior Tamara Zeman reached on an error in the third inning, and sophomore Aleisha Harper singled in the fourth inning.

Unfortunately for the Blugolds, when the at-large bids were announced on Monday, they were not among the selected teams given a chance to compete in the national tournament, putting an end to their season. Looking back on the season, however, Kidnie had nothing but positive things to say.

“Going into it, everyone had different expectations and we had to mold our goals to fit the team we were,” she said. “We were a young team, and I think we played the best we could.”

The team stands to lose four seniors and key contributors to graduation, but the fact that the other 16 roster spots are eligible to return next year gives the Blugolds a solid foundation to build off of.

“(The experience gained) always helps, and it will definitely be a different team,” Kidnie said. “Coach (Leslie Huntington) and (assistant coach) Robin (Baker) have the ability to mold whatever team they have into a winning team, so no matter who they have they’ll produce something out of it.”