End of the fight

Softball ends at WIAC tournament

Story by Nick Erickson, Managing Editor

UW-Eau Claire softball player Amanda Fischer said the only time her and her Blugold teammates ever heard the word failure coming from head coach Leslie Huntington was when she would say, “it’s never a failure unless you give up.”

Even though Huntington’s young team stopped its streak of two consecutive conference titles, the Blugolds battled until the very end as their season came to a halt last weekend at the WIAC tournament, hosted by UW-Stout.

The Blugolds went 1-2 with a win coming in the opening round against UW-Oshkosh before losing twice Saturday, once to UW-Whitewater and the other to UW-La Crosse.

Even though the season appeared over in the elimination game against La Crosse, Eau Claire was able to cut into the 3-1 deficit in the top of the seventh inning before flying out with runners in scoring position to put the nail in the coffin with a final record of 25-16.

“All season, we fought,” Fischer said. “That was the definition of our season, fighting through adversity and challenges.”

The lone win, however, provided some of the year’s biggest highlights.

Junior pitcher Laura Raflik was spinning a gem on the mound against Oshkosh, giving up no runs and not walking anybody through six innings.

But she still had just a 1-0 lead to work with. Until her teammate, Fischer, gave her a little more cushion with one swing of the bat.

With two runners on in the top of the seventh, Fischer launched a first-pitch fastball over the fence for a three-run home run.

That wasn’t even her plan.

“I was actually told by my coach to just hit a hard ground ball. So honestly, all I was thinking about was just getting it past the infield to score a run,” Fischer said, who finished the game with all four Blugold RBI.  “But that first pitch came in, and I swung hard and there it went.”

Huntington, who advised Fischer to just sneak it past the infield, said she certainly didn’t mind her getting a bit farther, especially with the way Raflik was throwing on the mound.

“I was confident we were going to get it done because Laura was pitching so well,” Huntington said.  “But you certainly want to have a bit more insurance.”

Raflik slammed the Titans’ door in the bottom half of the inning to finish the complete game. She wound up striking out seven and allowed just four hits while issuing zero walks.

She said a big key to her game was being able to spot the corners of the strike zone, causing Oshkosh to either roll over and not get the barrel on the bat or making hitters miss.

“I just had a really attack mentality out there,” Raflik said. “I was just being very finesse with where I was putting the ball the whole game.”

The Blugolds then fell in the next round 9-1 against Whitewater before the seventh-inning rally came up short against La Crosse.

Eau Claire missed out on the NCAA tournament, a rarity in the Huntington era, but still had five all-conference players: Fischer, Raflik, junior Taylor Pierce earned first-team honors, junior Casey Arnold received honorable mention and senior Emma Wishau got on the all-sportsmanship team.

Twenty of the 22 players will return next year for the Blugolds, and even though Huntington said she will use this year as a learning experience, she said the character of her team was high if she had it her way, the Blugolds would already be practicing for next year.

“I don’t care how young we are, I expect us to perform,” Huntington said. “It’s certainly caused me to reflect and think about the future, but this team was very talented, worked extremely hard, put a huge investment in the program and a bunch of high quality kids who I wouldn’t trade for anything.”