UW-Whitewater softball team advances to national tourney
UW-Whitewater softball team put itself in position to become the real No. 1 force—as in national champion—by knocking off top-ranked DePauw University of Indiana (40-4) twice in NCAA Division III regional competition.
Typical of the tight battles between the two contenders, Whitewater got the clincher here Monday by going eight innings for 6-2 victory over the Tigers that gave the Warhawks the regional title and a spot in the Elite Eight.
That’s the World Series, if you prefer, and it starts Friday at a familiar site for Whitewater —Salem, Va., where the Warhawks captured the Division III national football championship last fall and previously won the women’s national volleyball title.
Whitewater (35-9) begins the double-elimination series at 1:30 p.m. Friday against New York-Cortland (36-11).
The final eight also includes UW-Eau Claire (26-11), giving the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WIAC) two representatives for the first time. The Blugolds play Ithaca College of New York (34-10) at 4 p.m. Friday, placing them in the opposite bracket of the Warhawks.
Whitewater earned its spot in the elite group by beating the same school the Warhawk women’s basketball team eliminated to reach the Final Four in March. And this triumph over the defending national champions was every bit as sweet for coach Brenda Volk’s softball juggernaut.
“It’s been awhile for us,’’ Volk said of the Whitewater softball program’s first trip to this level since a national runner-up team in 1987. “So maybe we’ll open some eyes when we get out there. We’ve beaten the No. 1 team twice, and actually three times, in my book.’’
In reality, the first of those three was one that got away from the Warhawks in Saturday’s third round of the double-elimination regional.
“We were up 5-2 and fell apart defensively and let the game slip through our fingers,’’ Volk said of a 6-5 setback in eighth innings. “It was pretty tough loss, and it showed a lot the way the kids came back.’’
But the WIAC champions weren’t to be denied. They outbattled DePauw, 2-1 in nine innings, on Sunday to set up Monday’s championship showdown.
Then, the drama continued. Finally, after the Warhawks forced a 2-2 tie on cleanup hitter Lauren Cruz’s solo home run in the seventh, Whitewater got the breakout rally with four runs in the top the eighth.
Orfordville Parkview graduate Amy Gahl and Ashley Smith started the surge with back-to-back doubles that gave the Warhawks a 3-2 lead and their coach a chance for a sigh of relief.
“I felt good when we got a one-run lead,” Volk said, “and obviously even better when we got an even bigger lead.’’
The Warhawks made that happen with one swing of the bat. After Suzanne Gersich followed Smith’s double with a single to give Whitewater two base-runners, Amanda LeBeau blasted a three-run homer that made it 6-2.
As her team headed to bottom of eighth with a four-run lead, Volk felt confident there’d be no repeat of Saturday’s meltdown.
“I kind of felt in the back of my head, ‘There’s no way this team is going to let that happen again,’ ’’ she said.
And the Warhawks positively didn’t. DePauw opened with a single and a walk in the bottom of the eighth, but there would no comeback runs for the Tigers in their last at-bat against starting and winning pitcher Jessica Stang (12-4).
With that came a sense of relief and sheer pandemonium for the Warhawks.
“It’s very exciting,’’ Volk said of the chance to bid for the national title. “I’m so happy for the team, especially after what the kids did this week.
“When you stop to think of it,’’ she said, “it’s pretty amazing.’’
Sort of like UW-Whitewater’s entire athletic year.
WHITEWATER 6, DePAUW 2
Whitewater (ab-r-h-rbi)—Gahl cf, 4-1-1-0; Smith 2b, 4-1-1-1; Gersich rf, 4-1-2-0; Cruz lf, 4-1-1-1; LeBeau ss, 3-1-1-3; Brennfleck 1b, 4-0-0-0; Bothun pr, 0-0-0-0; Rankins 3b, 4-0-1-0; Solberg pr, 0-0-0-0; Yucuis c, 3-1-2-1; Kelm dh, 4-0-0-0. Totals: 34-6-9-6.
DePauw (ab-r-h-rbi)—Patterson rf, 3-0-1-0; Weeks ss, 4-1-1-0; Davitt lf, 2-1-2-0; Petruzzi pr, 0-0-0-0; Gill c, 3-0-1-1; Anton 1b, 4-0-0-0; Shipley pr, 0-0-0-0; Bartlett cf, 3-0-2-1; Schwerzler 3b, 4-0-0-0; Rees dh, 3-0-0-0; Minx 2b, 2-0-1-0. Totals: 28-2-8-2.
Whitewater 000 010 14—6
DePauw 000 101 00—2
E—Weeks, LOB—Whitewater 6, DePauw 8. 2b—Gahl, Smith, Weeks, Bartlett, Minx. HR—Cruz, LeBeau, Yucuis.
IP H R ER BB SO
Stang (W, 12-4) 8 8 2 2 3 5
Soultz (L, 36-4) 8 9 6 6 1 8
NCAA DIVISION III SOFTBALL
At Salem Va.
Game 1—Louisiana College (42-5) vs. Rhode Island College (367), 11 a.m.
Game 2—UW-Whitewater (35-9) vs. New York-Cortland, 1:30 p.m.
Game 3—UW-Eau Claire (26-11) vs. Ithaca, N.Y. (34-10), 4 p.m.
Game 4—Lynchburg, Va. (39-6) vs. Muskingum, Ohio (40-10), 6:30 p.m.