The softball team returned to action last week as they traveled a few minutes north to the campus of UW-Platteville for a doubleheader. The Pioneers entered at 4-10 overall, looking to change their fortune against the Duhawks. Last season, the two sides split a doubleheader at Faber-Clark Field.
In game one, first-year pitcher Emily Reilly continued her early-season dominance, striking out nine batters while only allowing one run over six fantastic innings. The offense provided all the support Reilly would need, as senior Dani Stromert and junior Bria Lenten each collected a pair of hits and RBIs, respectively. First-year Cassie Rotnik put the game to rest in the seventh inning to preserve the 8-2 victory.
Game two looked to be the Duhawks to take, as they jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the second inning. However, a five-run bottom of the second put the Pioneers in front for good. Every time the Duhawks looked to be clawing their way back into the game, the Pioneers would add insurance runs to widen the margin. UW-Platteville held on for a 9-5 victory, resulting in another deadlock between the bordering schools.
A Thursday doubleheader with Grinnell was rescheduled due to rain, so the Duhawks had a few extra days to prepare for their conference opener against Buena Vista. The Beavers entered at 9-5 and were predicted to finish third in the preseason Iowa Conference coach’s poll.
The Duhawks jumped in front in the first game thanks to heads-up base running by sophomore Reagan Wolverton. A fielding error by the Beavers resulted in a quick advantage for Loras, who had their ace on the mound in Reilly. She was cruising along until a solo home run by the Beavers tied the game at one. The game went to extra innings and the intensity increased around the diamond. Loras looked to snatch the momentum in the top of the 10th as sophomore Lauren Fritz belted a solo home run to regain the lead. Reilly came out to try and finish off the home side, but the Beavers rallied and a walk-off single sealed the win, 3-2.
In Game two, the Duhawks once again took an early lead, scoring two runs in the first thanks to Stromert and Fritz. Buena Vista cut the lead in half in the bottom of the first, but Loras had an answer all game. Sophomore Megan Larson launched her fourth round tripper of the season and a four-run sixth inning busted it wide open. Junior Emma Corkill shut the door for her third save and giving Loras the 8-3 win.
With the split, Loras improved their record to 13-5 overall. At this same point last season, the Duhawks sat at 6-9 overall, showing vast improvements in just one year. While the Duhawks have been paced by Lentine and Larson (to name a few), head coach Ashley Winter attributes this early success to more than just the talented roster.
“We started practices earlier this year and that was a big benefit, that really helped us introduce some new ideas and techniques,” stated Winter. “It also helped with developing team chemistry. We play best when we work together and have fun. We plan to keep that as our focus as we enter the busy part of our schedule.”
The Duhawks are in the midst of this busy part of the schedule, as they host rival University of Dubuque on Tuesday before traveling to Grinnell for a rescheduled doubleheader. Despite this hectic schedule, Coach Winter is not planning on worrying much about what’s next.
“Our focus from day one has been to be better than yesterday. We try to not look to the past or future, instead staying in the moment and worrying about ‘this pitch.’ For us, it is not about who we are playing, it is about playing our best together each time we step on the diamond,” Winter added.