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Blugolds Climb Within Win Of National Berth
Posted: Saturday, May 13, 2006
ROCK ISLAND, Ill. - The UW-Eau Claire softball team climbed to within one victory of a berth in the national tournament with a 1-0 triumph over Hope College of Michigan in the NCAA Rock Island Regional here Saturday.
With the win, the Blugolds are now the only remaining unbeaten team in the eight-team, double-elimination regional. They must wait until noon Monday to play their next game since Hope, because of its religious affiliation, has a Sunday exclusion and the NCAA has ruled that since Hope cannot play, no tournament games will be allowed Sunday. The tournament must be completed by midnight Monday in order for the regional champion to prepare for the national tournament which is hosted by Peace College in Raleigh, North Carolina, beginning next Friday.
Hope, the tourney's No. 7 seed but ranked No. 20 nationally in this week's NFCA Division III poll, must beat either Aurora College or Coe College at 10 a.m. Monday to earn a rematch with the Blugolds. Aurora, the No. 4 seed, and Coe, the No. 3 seed, were battling for survival in the game following the Blugold-Hope contest Saturday.
Mallory McKinney (Jr.- Brooklyn Park, MN/Champlin Park) pitched a masterful three-hitter against Hope, walking one and striking out five with one hit batter. She retired the first eight Flying Dutch batters in order and the final seven. Only three Hope batters managed to get the ball out of the infield and only two runners got as far as second, both on stolen bases.
McKinney added to several of her school records, pushing her victory total to 26 this season against one loss, her shutouts to 13 and her strikeouts to 176.
While the Blugolds had the pressure on the Flying Dutch throughout the game, they managed the only run they needed in the second inning. Jill Janke (So.-Black River Fallls) drew a walk leading off. Mandy Freidel (Sr.-Tomahawk) ran for her and advanced to second on a misplayed sacrifice bunt by Mandy Tschernach (Jr.- Rice Lake). Amber Haack (Jr.-Madison/La Follette) advanced both runners with a sacrifice and Shannon Barone (Jr.-De Pere) plated Freidel with a single to left. The Blugolds stranded those two runners in that inning, left the bases full in the fourth and left two on in the sixth.
The Blugolds had one other serious threat in the top of the first. Casey Leisgang (So.-Seymour) led off with a single, went to second on a sacrifice by Rachel Paulus (Jr.-Wisconsin Rapids) and to third on a groundout by McKinney. She was tagged out at the plate when she tried to score on a wild pitch that bounced hard off the backstop to the catcher.
Hope suffered a blow when starting pitcher Becky Whitman reinjured a shoulder on Barone's hit in the second. However, Kelsey Guisbert came on to blank the Blugolds from that point on. Guisbert had bested McKinney in a 4-0 Hope victory over the Blugolds in the teams' 2005 spring trip meeting in Florida. That was the only other softball meeting ever between the two schools.
Fifth-year Blugold coach Leslie Huntington said the Blugold win "wasn't flashy. We did just enough to win. We played well but could have played better."
Huntington had praise for Hope, calling them a "good team." She said the Flying Dutch are "solid, fundamental all the way around."
Huntington said she had a premonition about the Blugold performance. "After an emotional win (7-1 over Central of Iowa) like yesterday, it's always tough to come back with the same intensity and be as sharp."
The win was the 13th consecutive for the Blugolds, who are now 37-4 for the season and ranked No. 5 nationally in this week's poll. The win streak is the second longest in school history, exceeded only by the record 18-game streak that preceded a 3-2 loss to St. Scholastica on April 18. The Blugolds have won 31 of their last 32 games after starting the season 6-3. Hope had won 20 of its last 23 games before falling to the Blugolds.