The Loras softball team traveled to Decorah for the Iowa Conference Tournament this past weekend. The Duhawks entered the field as the No. 6 seed and opened against the No. 3 seed Coe College Kohawks. During the regular season, the sides split a doubleheader at Faber-Clark Field. This time, it would take extra innings to see who was moving on.
Loras jumped ahead early on, staking a three-run lead thanks to the bats of sophomores Megan Larson and Shannon Coyle. First-year Emily Reilly delivered a strong performance in her first postseason appearance, going six innings and giving up three earned runs in the process. Coe took advantage of Reilly’s fatigue and struck for four runs in the bottom of the sixth, taking the 4-3 lead.
Coyle did not waste any time evening the score as she blasted a lead-off home run in the seventh to knot things back up at 4. Loras took the lead for good in the top of the ninth as sophomore Lauren Fritz delivered an RBI double to score Coyle. In the bottom of the inning, center-fielder Regan Wolverton made a great catch and fired back to first base for the double play to end the game. Loras held on, 5-4, for their first Iowa Conference tournament victory since 2011.
With the win, the Duhawks now moved on to the semifinals and would have to face No. 2 Central. Loras kept it close for the most part as Reilly worked her way out of several jams to keep the game scoreless. The Duhawks’ offense had their opportunities to put runs on the board, but Central’s pitching frustrated Loras’ bats all day. The Dutch broke through in the bottom of the fourth and continued to pile on runs until the mercy rule was put into effect in the sixth inning. The Duhawks’ season had come to a close with an 8-0 loss to Central.
Despite the tough loss, head coach Ashley Winter has more than enough to be happy about. The Duhawks posted their most wins in a season (23) since the 1998 campaign. They also finished with a team batting average of .338, good enough for second in the Iowa Conference. They received contributions from all over the roster, but it was the sophomores on the team who stood out the most. Megan Larson led the team with a .437 batting average, 55 hits, and 89 total bases. She tied with fellow sophomore Ashley Lentine for the team lead in home runs (six), while Lentine also led the team in runs batted in (28). These two, along with Lauren Fritz, will be huge weapons for coach Winter going into the next few seasons.
“We still have room to improve for next season but honestly this season as a whole was one to remember to say the least,” said Lentine. “We put all of our effort into each game and we ‘stayed hungry’ as we would always say … but we are so happy with how we ended this year and breaking records was pretty cool, too, but we can’t wait until next year to get back at it.”
The bats weren’t the only strong part of this year’s team as Reilly, sophomore Bayley Monroe, and junior Emma Corkill provided strong outings on the mound. Reilly especially excelled in only her first collegiate season, she has the potential to become one of the best pitchers in the Iowa Conference if she continues to progress. She racked up 65 strikeouts in 106.2 innings and posted a 10-6 record with a 3.15 ERA. Corkill was the ‘closer’ of the staff and put together a 4-1 record with a minuscule 2.41 ERA. All three of these ladies will be integral for next season’s pitching staff.
“We had people stepping up this year and filling roles they haven’t played before so see what everybody brought game to game and putting it all together to see it in action was amazing,” said Lentine.
With a roster full of young talent, it is easy to forget that the Duhawks have three seniors on the roster who have made an impact on the program over the last four seasons.
“Our three seniors have left a lasting legacy on the Loras softball program,” said Winters. “We will miss their fun attitudes, strong work ethic and dynamic leadership next year. Each season always brings about a new team of student-
athletes with new challenges and goals. I am glad our returners had the opportunity to learn and grow under our strong senior class.”
As Dani Stromert, Kat Angelini, and Cate Paulsen leave the program and move on to post-grad life, they can be happy to know that they have left it in very capable hands.