The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

Blugold softball splits opening weekend

Third-year Claire Beck clinched a walk-off single in the eighth inning to win the third
The Blugolds played in a four game tournament to start off their season. Photo by Bill Hoepner from UWEC Photo used with permission.

The Blugold softball team split their opening tournament at Millikin University. Winning against Hope and Hanover and losing against Millikin and Coe they start off the 2024 season with a 2-2 record. 

Head coach Leslie Huntington is coaching her 23rd year of UW-Eau Claire softball this year. Huntington said this weekend’s tournament was an opportunity to test out the newer players on the team.

“The intention was to really try and play a lot of people,” Huntington said. “We are a pretty young team so we really wanted to use our depth. It’s overall one of the things we’re trying to create early in the season. For the most part our goal was to use a lot of our roster.”

The Blugolds fielded 21 out of their 29 players over the two days at Millikin. That line-up includes the 16 first-years added this season, marking the biggest UW-Eau Claire softball team in the past decade. Huntington emphasized the potential a young team holds.

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“They’re a talented group and they’re going to contribute and you can see that,” Huntington said. “We’re just trying to teach them as much as we can in a short amount of time. They feel like they’re drinking out of a firehose at times, but we’re trying to speed up the learning curve for them.”

Kenna Strunsee, a third-year softball player, said the new additions to the team are an “amazing” group of girls.

“It is so exciting to watch them perform on the biggest stage,” Strunsee said. “Almost all of our freshmen found some time on the field this weekend to showcase their skills, and they have proven to have loads of potential for the upcoming season.”

Strunsee scored the first run of the 2024 season, one of the high points of the weekend. She also contributed to the spotlight moment against Hanover on Sunday. The Blugolds pushed past regulation time with a score of 6-6.

Hanover scored two runs at the top of the eighth inning, but Miranda Gernander scored a run and Strunsee brought in a walk-off leaving Claire Beck at the batter’s box with Hanover leading 8-7. The bases were loaded with two outs against her, and she sent the ball out earning a walk-off single bringing the final score to 9-8. 

“Claire Beck, a junior, she had a really big weekend, and she’s coming off a pretty significant layoff due to injury,” Huntington said. “To see her come out this weekend and have the type of performance she had after she’s been injured for so long, that was a huge boost to the team.” 

Paige Lathrop is a second-year player. She’s proud of the team’s resilience and talked about that eighth inning from a team standpoint.

“Claire Beck’s walk-off hit in extra innings was a huge win for us,” Lathrop said. “Since it ended in dramatic fashion, the team’s energy was at its peak of the weekend. It was the boost that we all needed going into our fourth game in two days.“

The team has a special bond even off the field. Lathrop and Strunsee said that it was one of the most special things about their team. Lathrop called the team “electric”.

“Team 40 is a team that is extremely close,” Strunsee said. “I believe that our team has a bond that is stronger than a mid-season type of bond. I have never laughed so much with a group of girls, which makes being a Blugold that much better. We are playing the game we love with a group of girls we call family.”

The next challenge for the Blugold softball team is the 12 upcoming games over spring break starting off against Simpson College on March 16. Coach Huntington said these games were a big learning experience going forward and Lathrop echoed those same points.

“A key point for us moving forward will be to focus on the small details,” Lathrop said. “Our team always says that the small things will win games, and I think that will continue to be a main focus for the rest of the season.”

More information can be found at Blugold Athletics.

Pawlisch can be reached at [email protected].

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