Softball ties record with 17-game streak

Seventeen regular season conference wins in a row seems like a memorable accomplishment, especially when it matches a school record. But for UW-Eau Claire softball Head Coach Leslie Huntington, the streak has barely registered on her radar.

“Until I read it on the website, I had no idea that was even the case,” Huntington said. “That’s cool to be a part of history and we certainly respect that, but our focus is not on those records.”

The Blugolds moved to 18-3 on the year after beating UW-La Crosse 3-2 and 5-2 in an April 20 doubleheader and pushed their
conference winning streak to seventeen games.

The current streak matches the record set spanning the 2005 and 2007 seasons.

The last time the team lost a regular season conference game was April 4, 2012 to UW-River Falls.

The opening game against La Crosse, Eau Claire’s first contest since April 7, went nine innings before the Blugolds scratched out a win.

After squandering a 2-0 lead by giving up runs in the fifth and sixth innings, the Blugolds seemed in position to win the game in the eighth.

Freshman Abby Hansen singled and stole second and junior Amanda Houle walked to put two on with one out. But Hansen was caught trying to steal third and the Blugolds eventually went down without a run.

Another unsuccessful steal attempt, this one by freshman Gracia Larson, left the Blugolds with two outs and nobody on in the ninth. But consecutive singles by sophomores Amanda Fisher and Nikki Brooks gave fellow sophomore Taylor Pierce a chance to win it.

Pierce, who hit two game-winning home runs last year, came through with a base hit to center field, scoring Fischer and giving the Blugolds momentum heading into game two of the doubleheader.

Huntington said the coaching staff has been working with Pierce on hitting more line drives and not getting under the ball as much.

Huntington said Pierce’s competitive nature makes her an ideal player for late-game situations.

Pierce said she is able to stay relaxed in big moments, which helps her come through with timely hits.

“I definitely want it to be a good at-bat, but I don’t get too excited because I don’t want to psych myself out or anything,” Pierce said.

Huntington also said senior second baseman Jenny Hess made several key defensive plays that saved base hits and runs in the first game, which the coach said was one of the main reasons the team won.

Game two was not nearly as exciting, as the Blugolds pushed three runs across in the second inning, including a solo home run from Fischer.

Eau Claire added runs in the third and fifth innings and got a dominant relief outing from freshman Zana Lorbetske to finish off the Eagles.

Lorbetske entered the game in the fourth inning and allowed just one base hit while striking out seven to earn her sixth win of the year and second of the day.

Lorbetske also threw three scoreless innings of relief in game one to get the win. For the year, the freshman has racked up 39 strikeouts in 32 innings of work, by far the best strikeout rate on the pitching staff.

Huntington said having defined roles for the pitching staff has made everyone’s job easier.

“That’s really been able to help her be successful coming in those situations because she is a very different pitcher than Emma (Wishau) or Laura (Raflik),” Huntington said.

The defense, which had been an area of concern for Huntington for much of this season, performed well in the two games, committing only one combined error and featured Hess’ standout play.

Paired with a consistent offense and improved pitching, the team seems to be rolling at the moment.

Fischer said the team has been clicking lately and the players have a lot of confidence in themselves and each other.

“I think we still have room to grow, but we are playing really well right now,” Fischer said. “The fact that we do have room to get that much better, I’d be scared to play us.”

The Blugolds’ long-awaited home opener, a doubleheader against River Falls scheduled for April 24, was postponed and moved to April 26. Game one is set to begin at 4 p.m. at Bollinger Fields.