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Blugolds Need Nine Innings To Win NCAA Game
Posted: Thursday, May 11, 2006
ROCK ISLAND, Ill. - The UW-Eau Claire softball team needed nine innings but finally won its opening game in the NCAA Rock Island Regional with a 2-1 triumph over Lake Forest College here Thursday morning.
The Blugolds, who are the No. 1 seed in the eight-team, double elimination tournament, were down to their final out in the eighth inning before tying the game and forcing an additional extra inning. In the ninth, junior Shannon Barone (De Pere) hit a sacrifice fly with no one out to score Mandy Tschernach (Jr.-Rice Lake) who had started the inning with an opposite-field double to the fence in left. She had advanced to third on a bunt hit by Amber Haack (Jr.-Madison/La Follette).
The game had developed into a pitching duel between Lake Forest's Kendra Grant and the Blugolds' Mallory McKinney (Jr.-Brooklyn Park, MN/Champlin Park) and was scoreless after seven although both teams had missed chances to score.
The Blugolds had a runner cut down at the plate in the second and left runners at second and third in the same inning. The Blugolds also stranded a runner at third in both the fourth and seventh innings.
Lake Forest left a runner at third in the fourth and loaded the bases with one out in the seventh. A diving catch by Barone at second and a groundout to McKinney ended that threat.
Lake Forest finally broke the scoreless duel when cleanup hitter Christy Condon, who had struck out twice in three previous at bats, launched a monster home run over the 200-foot left field fence on a two-strike changeup.
In the bottom of the seventh, Casey Leisgang (So.-Seymour) walked with out and advanced to second on a groundout. That's when McKinney delivered a bloop single over short into left enter to score Leisgang.
McKinney then retired Lake Forest in order in the top of the ninth to set the stage for Barone's winning sac fly. The blow came on a two-strike pitch after she had missed on two squeeze bunt attempts.
McKinney, who tied the school single season victory record with her 24th triumph against just one loss, scattered eight hits and struck out nine without walking a batter although she hit one. She pitched with what she called a "nasty cold" but said she knew her teammates "would play defense behind me." On her game-tying hit, McKinney said she just "wanted to hit the ball on the ground but I got it up."
The Blugolds managed seven hits against Grant who did not strike out anyone but walked two.
Blugold head coach Leslie Huntington, who recently earned her third straight WIAC Coach of the Year award, called the playing conditions (high winds) for the opening day of the tournament "unfortunate" because "one misplayed ball can decide a game."
She said the victory was "huge." With this being the first time in the NCAA tournament for these kids, "I?m just happy to win." Had the Blugolds not won, "it would have been hard to get the team back mentally," said Huntington. "We told them this is a different season and everybody that's here deserves to be here. There are no easy games."
She did say that in the eighth, following the Lake Forest home run, she was "a little nervous because we hadn't scored, but I knew it wasn't over with these kids."
The win was the 11th straight for the Blugolds and their 29th in the last 30 games, giving them a 35-4 season mark while Lake Forest, the Midwest Conference champion, fell to 24-14. This was the Blugolds' sixth extra inning triumph this season and their ninth one-run decision.
The Blugolds will play the fifth seed Central College of Iowa tomorrow at 2 p.m. Central College defeated Aurora 9-1 today to advance.