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

    Beginning the road home

    After losing the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference tournament championship to UW-Whitewater May 5, the UW-Eau Claire softball team was not sure if they would even make the NCAA Div. III Softball Tournament.

    Not only were they granted an at-large bid, they earned a No. 3 seed in the regional hosted by No. 1 seed Whitewater. In the first game of the double elimination regional, the Blugolds (26-7) will play the No. 6 seed North Central College (Ill.) Cardinals, a 32-10 team out of the College Conference of Illinois & Wisconsin.

    All season, the team has been driven to make it to the NCAA Championship, which will be played at Eau Claire’s own Carson Park this year. Eau Claire senior first baseman Sarah Fern said the team was nervous going into selection Sunday because of its reduced schedule.

    “I was thrilled just to be part of the tournament,” Fern said. “Knowing that we had a lot less games than other teams, there was the stipulation that we might not have gotten in.”

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    Several rainouts left the team with concerns about the strength of its resume. The formula largely used to determine the field were kind to the Blugolds, which Head Coach Leslie Huntington said shows how important regular season victories over fellow tournament teams Whitewater and UW-Oshkosh were for the team.

    The Blugolds found themselves playing the waiting game Sunday evening after losing 7-0 to Whitewater in the WIAC tournament title game. Eau Claire managed only four hits off Warhawks’ ace Bekka Houda, who improved to 15-3 on the year by keeping the Blugolds off-balance all day.

    Besides a three-run home run from first-team All-Conference selection sophomore Amanda Fischer in the first inning of a 4-0 victory over UW-Stout in the semifinals, Eau Claire struggled mightily to get anything going offensively. Huntington said the offense failed to make adjustments all weekend, but she still has confidence in the team’s ability to score different ways and play different styles.

    “We want to make sure that we are attacking,” Huntington said. “I think that adjustment alone mentally should put us in a better position.”

    With the offense struggling, the Blugolds needed a strong pitching performance from junior Emma Wishau and she responded in
    Sunday’s game against Stout. Wishau threw a complete game shutout, allowing five hits and no walks while striking out three.

    Wishau got the ball in the title game against Whitewater, but allowed three runs on five hits in 3.2 innings before being removed in favor of freshman Zana Lorbetske.

    Huntington said Wishau was the victim of bloop hits and bleeders and threw the ball much better than her final line would indicate.
    Huntington also said Wishau has adapted a bulldog mentality in recent weeks and that she wants to be in the pitcher’s circle every game. Wishau said she made a conscious decision to change her attitude and approach midseason.

    “I was playing scared at the beginning of the season and then I just thought, ‘Well I need to be able to become mentally tougher,’” said Wishau, who has gone 4-2 since April 27, with complete game victories over Whitewater, Oshkosh and Stout.

    This year’s team does not have the 1-2 punch on the pitching staff equal to Wishau and then-senior Ashley Rubenzer from last season.

    Huntington said she plans on using Wishau as much as possible in the NCAA Tournament, which will be easier because the team will play only one game per day.

    Huntington also said sophomore Laura Raflik and Lorbetske will need to step up for the team to have a lengthy tournament run. The coaching staff has recently worked with Raflik on her dropball, which Huntington feels has improved and will make her more effective going forward.

    Lorbetske’s inconsistencies have left her coach scratching her head and searching for answers.

    “Unfortunately, she’s still kind of pitching like a freshman,” Huntington said. “One game, she will come out and just be lights out, and then there’s games she comes out and you’re just not sure where she is. It’s time for her to pitch like an upperclassmen now. She’s got a year under her belt almost and if we want to make a deep run we’re going to need to go beyond Emma.”

    If the Blugolds make it out of their regional, they would return home to Eau Claire and play for the first time this season at Carson Park. Fern, Wishau and Huntington all said the desire to play at home has been in the back, and sometimes in the front, of the team’s mind all season.

    As a senior, Fern said she is not ready to be done playing “Blugold Ball” just yet.

    “I’m putting everything I’ve got into this and I’m not going to finish until I see our home field again,” Fern said. “As far as the seniors, we’re not going to give up and we’re going to push our team to extremes if that’s what it comes down to.”

    The Blugolds’ first regional game against North Central College (Ill.) is set to for 2 p.m. May 9 at van Steenderen Field in Whitewater.

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