By George Bremer
The Herald Bulletin
EAU CLAIRE, Wis. —
By George Bremer
The Herald Bulletin
ANDERSON — The Anderson University softball team got off to a great start Friday in its debut appearance at the NCAA Div. III Softball Championships in Eau Claire, Wis.
It was the rest of the game against 18th-ranked Luther that gave the Ravens trouble.
Yardley Collett’s RBI single gave AU a 1-0 lead in the first inning, but the Norse did the rest of the scoring in an 8-1 decision that dropped the Ravens into today’s losers’ bracket. Anderson (31-17) will play top-ranked Salisbury (39-3) in an elimination game at noon.
“We’re not going to change the way we approach the game,” AU coach Tony Holloway said in a cellphone interview. “This is what got us here.”
The Ravens’ offensive game hinges on getting speedy players on base ahead of their power hitters and putting pressure on the opposing defense.
The plan worked to perfection in the first inning when Amy Wuestefeld reached on a bunt single with one out. Katy Ogden followed with a bunt attempt of her own, and the nation’s third-ranked defense responded with a throwing error to put runners on the corners.
Collett then drove a single into right field to score Wuestefeld and put the Ravens in front.
AU had a chance to add to its lead in the second, putting runners on second and third with one out after singles by Natalie Moorhouse and Samantha Steele sandwiched around a wild pitch. But Luther ace Becca Girvan, making her fourth straight NCAA championship appearance, induced a pair of pop outs to end the threat.
Norse coach Renae Hartl said her team’s experience in the NCAA Div. III World Series was a tangible factor in the game.
The NCAA holds several events connected with the championships, including a community service day, a picnic and a banquet leading up to the opening games.
“I think the NCAA does a great job of providing a really good experience for the girls at these championships,” Hartl said in her postgame news conference. “But I think the first time you get here, it also can be exhausting.”
As if to underscore Hartl’s point, Luther (33-9) seemed to get stronger as the game marched on.
The Norse took the lead in the third inning when left fielder Kelsey Weindruch hit a three-run homer deep over the left-center field fence with two outs. Weindruch drove in two more runs during a five-run sixth inning rally and finished 2-for-4 with five RBIs.
AU freshman Sami Frazier rebounded with two solid innings, allowing just a two-out walk over the fourth and fifth innings, but ran into trouble again when Carli Radil doubled to lead off the sixth.
She advanced to third on a wild pitch and scored on a single by Morgan Franklin. After a groundout, Miranda McCay singled to make it 5-1 and force Frazier out of the circle.
“Today I just tried to have confidence in what I know how to do,” Frazier said of starting the first NCAA championship game in school history. “I wasn’t really nervous, which was really surprising because I was expecting to be really nervous. But I think my adrenaline was just high, and I knew what I had to do. Obviously, it fell apart around the third inning. But I was really excited to be here.”
Luther scored on a bases-loaded walk against reliever Devin Moorman before Weindruch capped the scoring with a two-run single.
Freshman Hannah Belvo pitched a scoreless seventh for the Ravens, who just couldn’t seem to get the big hit when they needed it.
AU stranded Lys Hess after a leadoff double in the fourth and similarly failed to force across a run following Wuestefeld’s one-out single in the fifth.
“That’s exactly what we did last weekend (in winning the NCAA regional),” Holloway said. “When we needed timely hitting, clutch hitting, it seemed to come more often than not.”
Wuestefeld was the Ravens’ top offensive performer. She entered the contest ranked 37th in the nation with a .467 batting average and finished 2-for-4 against the Norse.
Anderson won five straight elimination games to take the regional title in Angola, and the Ravens are keeping a positive attitude in Wisconsin, as well.
“In the regional, we proved we can overcome obstacles,” Wuestefeld said. “We’re just here to have fun and enjoy playing. It’s just been such a ride to get here, and we’re all just riding on the fact it’s a dream come true.”