Softball opens with double sweep

Story by Andrew Hildebrand

The UW-Eau Claire women’s softball team swept Gustavus Adolphus 6-5 and 5-4 in Rochester Saturday night in its season opening double header.

Strong pitching and two game winning hits from freshman Taylor Pierce helped the Blugolds overcome some leaky defense to begin the season undefeated.

“Taylor was absolutely phenomenal for us,” Coach Leslie Huntington said. “For her to play the way she did with the game wining triple in her first collegiate game was incredible.”

Pierce is one player on a team stocked with underclassmen. If her performance is any indication of the future, senior Ashley Meinen said inexperience shouldn’t be a problem.

“We saw a lot of good things from the freshmen,” Meinen said. “We have big shoes to fill so it was nice to see them come out hitting and playing really well, especially in their first college games.”

The Blugolds set the tone early in the first game when junior Sarah Fern blasted a towering solo homerun in the first inning, putting them ahead 1-0.

Gustavus rallied in the top of the second, evening the score. Freshman Taylor Pierce responded with a quick double in the bottom of the inning. After stealing third, Pierce crossed the plate on senior Nikki Bromelkamp’s groundout, pushing the Blugolds to the front once again.

Gustavus chalked up two more runs in the third to take the lead 3-2. Defensive miscues played a role all day, but Huntington said that was to be expected at this point in the season.

“Any time you start out like this, without a chance to (practice) outside, you’re a little concerned with how you’re going to play defensively,” Huntington said. “Our pitching and our offense bailed us out sometimes. That will improve down the line.”

The score remained the same until Pierce singled to center field. Another stolen base moved her into scoring range for fellow freshman Casey Arnold. Arnold delivered with a quick single to left and Pierce crossed the plate, knotting the score at 3-3.

The game remained tied through regulation. Both teams entered the first extra inning with a runner on second base due to the international tie breaking rule. Gustavus took advantage with a two run homer to take a 5-3 lead.

After two walks loaded the bases for the Blugolds, Pierce once again delivered with a crucial triple to drive in the winning run. Sophomore pitcher Emma Wishau picked up the win after throwing strong for all eight innings. Her play from the mound impressed Huntington.

“Score wise it won’t show our pitching was dominant,” she said. “But when you look inside the results, you see a pretty good pitching performance, especially for the first game out.”

The second game began with two runs scored by senior Jess Freagon in the early innings. Meinen threw four scoreless before surrendering three runs and the lead in the bottom of the fifth. Sophomore Emily Ruegemer relieved the ailing hurler and ended the inning.

The Blugolds would respond with two more runs from Freagon and junior Jenny Hess to take a 4-3 lead. The pitching wouldn’t hold, however, and Gustavus tied the game 4-4 with a homerun to left field.

When the seventh inning arrived it was Pierce who once again came up with a key hit. The Blugolds were back out in front when she knocked a soaring solo homer straight to center field. This time Freagon and the defense held in the bottom of the seventh, completing the sweep.

“They were both great wins for us,” Meinen said. “You can’t win them all if you don’t win the first two. It was great to see the fight our team has to be able to come from behind like we did.”

The team will resume competition March 18-23 for the 2012 National Training Center Spring Games held in Clermont, Fla.