UMD softball team blown away, gets new chance

John Gilbert

Allysa Williams threw a scoreless inning in relief of Mady Stariha to help blank Wayne State 8-0 Saturday.  Photo by John Gilbert.

UMD softball team blown away, gets new chance It was one of those nasty days that have predominated our Duluth springtime this year, but I was determined to get up to Malosky Stadium Sunday for the high noon start of this season’s final games in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference softball race.

UMD, which had led almost all the way through this season, was playing at “home” on the temporary field set up on Malosky’s artificial football turf, and the Bulldogs were facing a powerful Augustana outfit in two games that would determine the regular-season title. I got out of my vehicle in the adjacent media parking lot and as I did, the National Anthem was just starting on the PA system. Perfect timing, I thought, as I pulled off my double-hooded protection of a sweatshirt and a windbreaker, and removed my baseball cap underneath, to stand at attention.

As I stood there, listening, I was startled by something brushing my left elbow. It was a large, 1-foot square chunk of flattened cardboard, and it nicked my elbow as it flew past at easily 50 miles per hour, sailing in a direct trajectory until it plastered itself against the cyclone fence 50 feet away. Ah, springtime in Duluth. Forty-something with a windchill of 20. Should be  a tremendous home-field advantage for UMD, which stood 22-4 atop the NSIC after sweeping Wayne State 10-0, 8-0 Saturday, while Augustana had fallen out of its tie for first to 21-5 by losing one of two at St. Cloud State on Saturday.

It would also be a test for UMD junior left-hander Lauren Dixon pitching against the power-hitting Auggies.

I found a spot behind the fence near the Augustana bench to shoot photos, and as I focused, a gust of that harsh north wind hit me in the back and pushed me up against that fence. The weather bureau said gusts were a little more than 50 mph, as a sharp ground ball skipped through the infield for a hit, and Dixon got an out before Abby Lien coaxed a walk.

Dixon clearly struggled trying to figure out the trajectory of her fastball into that incredible wind as left-fielder Tori Chute stepped in. Batting left-handed, she smacked a high opposite-field pop fly to left, but UMD left-fielder Corrie Weise could only watch helplessly as the yellow ball rode that jet-stream well over the left-field fence for a 3-run home run.

Augustana ignored Dixon’s impressive stats and pounded her for 12 runs, 11 earned, in 3 2/3 innings, and ripped the Bulldogs 17-4. Chute went 4-for-5 and drove in 5, while Gracie Brink also went 4-5 and Sydney Herbert went 4-for-4 — also adding home runs, as the Auggies scored in every inning and pulled back into a tie for first with UMD at 22-5.

The second game was more of the same, as Augustana ignored Mady Stariha’s league-leading 1.42 earned-run average and hammered her for 9 earned runs and 12 hits in 3 1/3 innings. Chute went 4-for-5 with another home run and 5 RBIs again, making it an 8-for-10 day with 10 runs driven in, and she was supported by Gracey Brink, Abby Lien and Ashton Dorman, each of whom added 3 hits in a 21-hit attack that snuffed the Bulldogs after they had closed to a 9-8 deficit ,to win the game 16-11 and the title at 23-5, with a 36-13 overall record. UMD, at 22-6 and a 36-11 overall mark, headed for Rochester and a fresh start as the No. 2 seed in the NSIC tournament, which will be double elimination, and the opportunity for Dixon and Stariha to show the value of their pitching depth.

And unless they reschedule the tournament for New Orleans at hurricane season, the unbelievable wind should have subsided.

Biggest NHL upsets I

t was a wild Sunday for sports for us. I got up at 6 am to watch Sergio Perez beat his Red Bull teammate Max Verstapen in the Azerbaijan Formula 1 Grand Prix, which got me primed for the softball doubleheader, and then the return to the comfort of home for a Stanley Cup Playoff Game 7 doubleheader that couldn’t have been more fantastic.

Most observers predicted defending Cup champion Colorado would wind up facing the Boston Bruins, who recorded the most wins and best record in league history, in the final. But both had their hands full. The Panthers were down three games to one but came back to win twice and force Game 7 back in Boston, where they defused the potent Bruins and, after blowing a 2-0 lead, came back to tie the game on Brandon Montour’s goal in the final minute of regulation.

Then Florida’s Carter Verheghe scored at 8:35 of overtime to leave the Bruins, their fans, and the media all stunned. Having never lost three in a row all season, the Bruins lost the last three games of the best-of-seven series.

While Eastern media raved about how that was the biggest upset possible, the REAL biggest upset came in Denver, where the Seattle Kraken — a team cobbled together out of castoffs and spares to begin play last year — were put into an amazingly cohesive unit of disciplined nonstars and won 2-1 as goaltender Philipp Grubauer, let go by the Avalanche a year ago, was brilliant, and a young sniper named Oliver Bjorkstand scored two goals and fired three more shots off pipes to defuse the team with the best forward in the league in Nathan MacKinnon and the best defenseman in the league in Cale Makar.

Those winners advance now to the second round. Seattle will take on the Dallas Stars, who beat up and beat the Minnesota Wild in six games, while the Edmonton Oilers got past the Los Angeles Kings, and will face the Vegas Golden Knights, conquerors of the Winnipeg Jets.

In the East, the Florida Panthers in the East will take on the Toronto Maple Leafs, who knocked out Tampa Bay in the seventh game, while the Lightning were aiming at reaching the Cup final for the fourth straight year. The Carolina Hurricane, after getting past the New York Islanders, will face the winner of Monday night’s final first-round game between the New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils.  

And now, you heard it here first. The Seattle Kraken will win the Stanley Cup.

The Wild left a lot of dejected fans, who are now criticizing coach Dean Evason for not getting his best players to perform. He did his best, although I have one major criticism. For Game 6, he made a big adjustment, which meant moving Kirill Kaprizov to the second line and promoting Matt Boldy to the first line. Apparently nobody noticed that while Kaprizov was battered and beaten physically every shift, but still tried his best, the Boldy had turned invisible when the playoffs started. Everybody agreed that the Wild needed to score more on the power play, but nobody noticed that your power play isn’t a power play if one of your players is invisible. Boldy was the only player on the team who was minus-3 in the 4-1 sixth-game loss. My idea for a major adjustment? I would have shifted Kaprizov to center with Mats Zuccarello on one wing and either — take your pick — Marcus Foligno or Ryan Reaves on the other. You wouldn’t have to tell either one of them that if anyone comes close to Kaprizov that they should mediate. Here’s a team short of centers, and here’s Kaprizov, getting hammered on the boards and the most elusive center-type stickhandler and playmaker on the team.

One other thing about the playoffs. Every other series ended with great mutual respect and without animosity or cheap intimidation tactics, except for the Stars-Wild. The Stars set out to intimidate the Wild, and the officials allowed it, and if Foligno ever tried to respond, he was immediately penalized unjustly. Three bad calls against Foligno cost the Wild two games, which were enough to prevent the Wild from winning the series.

Hall of Fame

The Duluth Area athletic Hall of Fame inducts five new members this week at the DECC, with a Wednesday dinner to welcome the new inductees: Olympic distance running star Kara Goucher, organizer of Grandma’s Marathon Scott Keenan, college baseball coach Norm DeBriyn, former Denfeld and UMD hockey star and community organizer Pat Francisco, and longtime UMD women’s basketball coach and administrator Karen Stromme.