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The Upper Midwest Athletic Conference softball tournament is always well-run and has a few moments of excitement every year, along its double-elimination way. And then they give the big trophy to St. Scholastica.
It happens that way every year, up at Kenwood Avenue Field, almost as an annual conclusion to the area Division III softball season. The other programs are getting better, and this year the University of Wisconsin-Superior has joined the UMAC and was sure to be competitive. Nobody imagined how competitive. After four days filled with all manner of competition, the Yellowjackets won three dramatic victories and turned the tournament upside down, climaxed by Sunday’s scintillating 4-3 final game triumph against the Saints.
The trophy wasn’t attained until Saints slugger Nikki Logergren faced former Denfeld teammate, Sarah Hendrickson, with two out in the last of the seventh. Earlier, the Yellowjackets had survived a 3-hour lightning and rain delay for a 5-hour 1-0 victory over the Saints in 11 innings on Friday. The Saints avenged that on Saturday by unloading on UWS 11-3, when the same Logergren drilled a 2-run home run off the same Hendrickson in the sixth inning, invoking the 8-run rule and forcing one more game for the title.
The personal duel this time saw Logergren hammer a 2-and-0 pitch deep to center, attracting the riveted gaze of all the players on both teams and the parents and fans sitting in the stands or on the grass, as it traced a majestic arc through the sky. And then UWS center-fielder Katie Wilke, with her back against the fence, caught the ball, ending the game, securing the 4-3 victory, and igniting a wild celebration by the ’Jackets.
“My heart was in my stomach,” said Hendrickson, who had relieved Macy Hanson as the two shared pitching heroics for UWS. “I’ll gladly trade the home run Nikki hit off me yesterday for Katie catching that one today.”
The title gave UWS the UMAC’s automatic berth in this weekend’s NCAA Division III tournament, but to win it, the Yellowjackets had to win three of the most dramatic games in any sport or any year.
To realize the magnitude of the UWS upset, a glance at the tournament program said it best, where all four teams had their UMAC tournament titles listed: . Third-seeded UWS, 13-3 to place third, had a big zero; Minnesota-Morris, which had upset its way to the final foursome despite an 8-8 league record, also showed “0;” second place and second-seeded Northwestern (13-3 ) had a “1” for a tournament title; and St. Scholastica, with its glowing 15-1 mark, showed 13.
The Saints opened the final game with a 2-0 lead in the first. Micah McGuiness hit a home run off UWS starter Hanson, and the Saints took advantage of a surprisingly shaky UWS defense. “I’ve never seen our players so nervous,” said coach Roger Plachta, amazed that the team’s error count reached six, but couldn’t prevent the Yellowjackets from winning.
In the third, the Yellowjackets broke through against Saints ace Chrisi Mizera when Shelly Misco doubled home two runs and later scored on a ground out to lift UWS to a 3-2 lead. The 3-2 lead held until the sixth, when the Saints tied it 3-3 on Alexa Bremer’s clutch 2-out single to center with runners at first and third.
But in the top of the seventh, UWS left-fielder Kari Shipman came up with two key plays. She fouled off an attempted bunt, but surprisingly she tried again and this time was safe on a throwing error. Ciarra Taipale hit a fly ball to left for the second out, but Shipman caught the Saints by surprise by tagging up and advancing to second. Katie White’s soft fly to shallow right field was perfectly placed, landing just beyond the reach of the diving McGuiness as Shipman scored from second.
Coach Plachta gave credit to his assistant coach for sending Shipman to second on the tag-up, but Shipman said, somewhat sheepishly, “No, I went on my own. The ball was hit deep enough.” Asked about the two bunt attempts, she wanted no credit: “No, that was Roger.”
In the last of the seventh, Hendrickson got two quick outs on fly balls, then came the final showdown and Logergren’s dramatic final fly.