Blugolds wear out the Yellowjackets

Softball wraps up conference season, 13-3 in WIAC


Photo by Austin Mai

Story by Austin Mai, Op/Ed Editor

In a preseason poll, WIAC head coaches and sports information directors predicted the records and standings for the softball programs. No surprise at the time, defending conference champion UW-Whitewater’s squad was the choice to secure the 2015 league championship.

UW-Eau Claire wasn’t far behind, as those polled predicted the Blugolds to finish this season as the league’s third best team behind UW-Stout.

While Stout currently sits at No. 6 and Whitewater at No. 4, the Blugolds sit at No. 2 in the league with a 13-3 conference record.

Head coach Leslie Huntington said although she’s happy with how the team has been playing lately, she doesn’t want the team to get too comfortable.

“We don’t feel like we’re as good as we can be yet,” Huntington said. “We’re really focused on getting better every week.”

Eau Claire secured its .813 conference record Wednesday night with a doubleheader sweep against UW-Superior.

In the first game, the Blugolds got on the scoreboard first with one run in the first inning. After senior Taylor Pierce hit a triple to right center field, senior Casey Arnold singled up the middle and Pierce made her way home to take the lead.

After the first inning neither team earned a run until the bottom of the fourth inning, when sophomore Kenzie Winning maneuvered her way around the diamond after she singled to left center field to start the inning.

Winning advanced to second base on a sacrifice bunt, then stole third before sophomore Kelsey Meredith hit a single to right field and punched Winning’s ticket to home plate.

Senior Amanda Fischer hit a home run next to let Meredith and herself score on the two-run play.

The Yellowjackets fired back with their own three-run inning to get on the scoreboard, but it was too late, the Blugolds had a two-run inning in the bottom of the sixth inning to put the game away. Superior didn’t score again and Eau Claire won 6-3.

The Blugolds’ second victory of the night had a different look to it, including chasing the lead for two innings. The Yellowjackets earned the first run in the first inning of the second game and held the lead until Eau Claire regained the lead with a two-run inning in the bottom of the second.

Arnold said it took Eau Claire a few innings to get things going again.

“It’s difficult to get your focus back on after the first win,” Arnold said. “We definitely knew we had to get it done and we knew it had to be done at defense.”

She said the defense had a few bad innings but they knew their best would come around.

“Then we had to get it done on offense,” Arnold said.

The game’s action stalled out until the top of the fifth inning when the Yellowjackets scored a run to even the score.

Eau Claire and Superior each had another inning on offense before the Blugolds again put away the doubleheader with a late-game, three-run inning in the bottom of the sixth.

Arnold said the doubleheader against Superior created a blueprint for how the team must be able to play during the postseason.

“I know we can play perfect on defense and play without another error,” Arnold said. “I know we can get better hitting those clutch hits like we did (Wednesday night). I think we met our expectations but knowing we can do much better still is really exciting.”

Huntington said if the team can it put it all together during the league championship weekend, the team will be in the NCAA tournament.

The Blugolds finish out the regular season by traveling to Minnesota late this weekend. Eau Claire’s first game is set for noon Sunday against the College of St. Scholastica (Minn.) and the second is set to start at 2 p.m. against Northland College (Minn.) with both games in Duluth. Eau Claire will travel for a doubleheader set for 3 and 5 p.m. Monday against Saint Mary’s University (Minn.).