Blugolds softball loses a heart-breaker in WIAC conference final

    Despite not receiving a national tournament bid, the Blugolds exceeded all expectations this season

    More stories from John Mattison

    Blugolds softball loses a heart-breaker in WIAC conference final

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    Just one weekend after the Eau Claire Marathon took place, the UW-Eau Claire softball team had a marathon-like finish to their season.

    In the championship game of the WIAC Conference Tournament, the Blugolds battled with UW-Whitewater for 12 scoreless innings, until finally coming up short 2-1 in the WIAC Conference championship game.

    The Blugolds battled as they had the entire season, but couldn’t close the deal in the bottom of the thirteenth inning. The game was the longest in WIAC tournament history and lasted almost four hours.

    For a squad that lost six seniors to graduation, the Blugolds only had two returning starters as position players. Predicted to finish third in the conference in the preseason polls, the Blugolds finished on top of the conference with a (26-13-1) record, which gave the program its 11th regular season title.

    Coach Leslie Huntington said she always has high expectations for her teams, but even she believed her team overachieved some this season.

    “We always believed we could win,” Huntington said. “… No matter if we were down, we never panicked. We stayed true to the process and managed momentum and emotions incredibly well.”

    Even though the Blugolds hoisted a regular season WIAC title and finished second by only a run in the WIAC tournament, they still did not receive a bid to the NCAA Division III tournament.

    Huntington and the rest of her team were not happy with this news.

    “Obviously I’m highly disappointed,” Huntington said. “I thought we had a legitimate chance at getting a bid to the tournament. It was a rough day hearing the news, but we have no control over the decision and have to keep moving forward to get better for next season.”

    Next season the Blugolds have a lot going for them as they only lose three players on the roster to graduation. In addition, they have six returning all-conference caliber players, Huntington said.

    Six Blugolds received All-WIAC honors for their efforts in the 2015-2016 season, and all of them were juniors or younger, which Huntington said is promising for the team’s future.

    “Every team gets to nominate six players for the All-WIAC team and all six of our players received the honor,” Huntington said. “That is just a tribute to their hard work and dedication they’ve exemplified this whole season.”

    Junior Evie Schaller earned Co-Position Player of the Year honors after leading the conference with 52 hits, 43 RBIs, 15 doubles and 79 total bases. Schaller was also second in the conference in overall batting average .409, slugging percentage .622, on base percentage .461 and tied for fourth in home runs with four.

    Schaller stepped right in and contributed for the Blugolds in her first season after transferring from Winona State University (Minn.). She also tied an Eau Claire single-game record with five hits against St. Norbert College (Wis.) on May 2.
    Junior Lauren Blasczyk also earned a spot on the All-WIAC First Team for the second time. She led the WIAC with an overall ERA of 1.51 and went 7-0 in the WIAC season. Junior Leah Wolff joined Schaller and Blasczyk on All-WIAC First Team.
    Juniors Rachel Heffel, Morgan Lecheler and freshman Brooke Varian were the three other Blugolds named to the All-WIAC Honorable Mention team.

    Also named to the WIAC All-Sportsmanship Team was senior Gracia Larson.

    “We had a successful season,” Huntington said. “It was a result of believing in each other and the program. Our whole team consisted of selfless individuals. Combine that with their will to win and you’re going to be successful.”