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With the UMD baseball team playing in the Northern Sun tournament in St. Cloud, St. Scholastica and UWS playing in the UMAC baseball tournament at Wade Stadium, the Minnesota Wild signing Bruce Boudreau as their new coach, the Twins struggling mightily, and the Stanley Cup Playoffs raging into a pair of Game 7 finishes in the West, there is plenty of subject matter to write about this week. However, none of those events was significant enough to bump Division III’s UMAC softball tournament title by UWS out of the spotlight.
As dramatic as the University of Wisconsin-Superior’s UMAC softball tournament final game was, it was actually the third part of a three-ring circus of improbable victories for the Yellowjackets in their first year in the UMAC.
Seeded third among the four teams, UWS opened against second-seeded Northwestern of Roseville, and jumped to a 3-0 lead in the top of the first and expanded it to 5-0 in the second. The Eagles didn’t get their first hit off Macy Hanson until the fourth, but then they broke through for two runs in the fifth. Sarah Hendrickson relieved Hanson with the bases loaded in the sixth, but a couple of errors and some clutch hits clicked for a 4-run rally to let Northwestern take a 6-5 lead.
Having blown a 5-0 lead, things looked bleak for UWS, and in the top of the seventh, the potential tying run was thrown out at home. But with two out, coach Roger Plachta sent Saige Patrick up to pinch-hit and her hard grounder allowed Kari Shipman to score from second with the tying run, after all.
At 6-6, the Yellowjackets scraped up another run in the top of the eighth. Katie Wilke was safe on an error, and Sasha Fjeran sacrificed her to second. With two outs, Shipman delivered a single to right, and Wilke came around to slide in with the tie-breaking run.
Plachta pinch-hit for Hendrickson in the rally, and re-entered Hanson to pitch the last of the eighth. A leadoff single, a sacrifice hit, and a walk loaded the bases with nobody out for Northwestern. But Hanson struck out the next two hitters and retired Ellen Larkin on a short pop fly to third base, giving the Yellowjackets a 7-6 victory.
St. Scholastica, which had beaten Minnesota-Morris 5-1, squared off against UWS on Friday, and after each team got a hit in the first two innings, Chrisi Mizera of the Saints and Macy Hanson of the Yellowjackets threw matching 1-hit shutouts in a scoreless masterpiece into the seventh inning. Suddenly, though, the record-heat of the 92-degree day gave way to a warning of lightning that was about to hit the area and the game was being suspended with all players ordered to leave the facility and find shelter.
Heavy rain, with frequent lighting bolts, delayed the game for nearly three hours, but by 5:15 p.m., the sun was shining again and the game resumed. Hanson, who was troubled by a blister on her pitching hand, was replaced by Sarah Hendrickson for UWS, and the two teams continued putting up zeroes.
In the top of the 11th, Sasha Fjeran singled to center, and was sacrificed to second. That set the stage for Brittany Thomfohrda, the UWS second baseman and leadoff hitter, and she cracked a Mizera pitch over the left-fielder’s head to drive in the long-awaited run.
In the last of the 11th, Hendrickson got a leadoff strikeout, then gave up a single to Rendi Johnson, who was forced at second. Pinch-hitter Marjaana Dailey singled, but with two on and two out, Alexa Bremer hit a line drive to right. Ciarra Taipale circled back at first, then ran in and made a diving catch for a dramatic finish to an amazing 1-0 game.
After two games, and two highlight-video victories, the unbeaten Yellowjackets had to wait while St. Scholastica thrashed Minnesota-Morris 17-1, then had to face the Saints again. Micah McGuiness pitched for the Saints, who jumped on Hendrickson for six runs in the second, as several errors undid UWS. A bases-clearing double by Bremer and another double by Maggie Schley provided the key hits in the inning.
The Yellowjackets made it interesting with a 3-run third, as Taipale doubled home one run and Shelly Misco singled home two more off McGuiness. But the Saints, leading 7-3 in the last of the sixth, catcher Cara Watson doubled home two runs and Nikki Logergren socked a 2-run home run over the center-field fence.
That blast, with Logergren hitting Sarah Hendrickson’s first pitch out of the park, was not only an element of the rivalry between the two former Denfeld teammates – but it also provided the extra interest when the teams met Sunday in the championship rematch, and Hendrickson got Logergren on a game-ending fly out to center that gave the Yellowjackets the UMAC tournament trophy in their first year in the league.
It would be impossible to rank the comeback victory over Northwestern after blowing the 5-0 lead, or the 1-0 victory over the Saints in 11 innings, or the final 4-3 victory for the title. We may have to call it a three-way tie for the biggest victory, because UWS needed all of them to advance to face Luther in the NCAA Division III regional this weekend.
One amazing point of interest: After UWS, seeded third, beat No. 2 Northwestern and then took two out of three from No. 1 St. Scholastica to win the tournament, this weekend is the UMAC baseball tournament at Wade Stadium, where No. 3 UWS opens against No. 2 Northwestern, and then may have to face top-seeded and defending champion St. Scholastica.