PELLA, Iowa – Luther College sophomore pitcher Becca Girvan threw a two-hit shutout to bring the St. Thomas softball team’s (37-9) season to an early and disappointing end.
Girvan (27-4) struck out 14 batters in seven innings of work to lead the Norse to a 2-0 victory (38-6) Saturday, May 12, in the NCAA Division III regionals.
“That’s tough to do, strike out fourteen of our kids,” coach John Tschida said. “She pitched a very different game than she usually does. She usually throws a lot more riseballs, and she knew she shouldn’t throw too many of those. So she was mostly a curveball pitcher today. Hats off to her for being able to throw that when a lot of kids can’t do that.”
St. Thomas senior first baseman Kristen Feisel said, “She had great pitches; she executed her spots. There was definitely opportunities for us to take some more balls. She had us chasing some pitches out of the strike zone.”
For Feisel and senior pitcher Christy Gries, the final game of their careers was bittersweet.
“I’m really proud of the girls,” Feisel said. “It’s just a really great program, and they really build us up to do great things, especially when we graduate.”
Coach John Tschida said the seniors on this team meant a lot to the program.
“When we talk about the seniors and the seniors got announced, that’s when our players started crying,” Tschida said. “It’s good to shed some tears because that’s a sign that you’re playing for each other.”
Freshman pitcher Kendra Bowe said the seniors’ contribution to the team spoke for itself.
“Before we even really knew each other, they were bringing this team together; and they really played a huge role in the success that we had this year,” Bowe said. “Without them, the chemistry would not have happened.”
Bowe (22-3) started off on the mound for the Tommies and pitched six innings. She immediately walked senior designated player Abby Christian, who advanced to second after a wild pitch. Senior catcher Kelsey Kittleson’s double brought her home. St. Thomas junior right fielder Alyssa Dunrud’s catch at the right field wall ended Luther’s first inning.
Feisel said Dunrud’s great catch helped boost the Tommies’ spirits.
“That just pumps you up. I was so excited,” Feisel said. “That’s what we’re all about.”
Tschida said that the Norse’s early lead did not phase the Tommies.
“Our mentality is just to go out swinging and take hacks up there,” he said.
In the top of the second inning, Luther loaded the bases. But Bowe was able to escape the inning without giving up a run.
Tschida said Bowe did not have her usual stuff on Saturday.
“She wasn’t as sharp as she’s been in the past. That’s where your offense has to pick her up,” Tschida said. “She’ll pitch well enough to get a win, but we’ve got to hit a little bit better for her.”
Bowe agreed that it was not her best game.
“Mechanics were still off, but it is what it is. When you’re in this position, you just have to find a way to compete and get the win,” Bowe said. “Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to do that.”
Though Bowe had her struggles, the Tommies’ defense picked her up.
In the top of the fifth inning, Luther’s Huber smashed a one-out double and got to third base after a wild pitch. However, St. Thomas third baseman sophomore Mary Rentz prevented Huber from scoring by making a spectacular back-handed scoop to end the inning.
Kittleson’s home run in the top of the sixth inning widened the Norse’s lead to 2-0.
At the top of the seventh inning, Bowe walked freshman Alise Miller. Senior shortstop Paige Comentino pinch ran for Miller and advanced to second after Huber bunted, and Bowe missed the scoop.
Senior pitcher Christy Gries replaced Bowe after the play, and the Tommies then executed a double play, leaving only Comentino on third base. Gries walked senior third baseman Lauran Snyder and Kittleson to load the bases. Senior right fielder Mallory Broderick stepped up to bat but hit into a fielder’s choice to end the inning.
Girvan struck out Feisel and sophomore pinch hitter Kirstin Bigelbach, walked sophomore Maria McQuillan and struck out junior Fantashia Gates-Colbert to end the game.
Tschida said that despite the loss, he was pleased with the way the team played.
“If you played poorly, then you hang your head, and it’s a bummer. But they didn’t play bad, the other team just played well,” Tschida said.
He said that his expectations for next year remain high.
“We expect to compete for a national title. We’ve got almost all the players coming back,” Tschida said. “They’re good kids, and they like to play. And we’ve got a real good recruiting class coming in.”
Bowe said that she is confident going into next year.
“We just have to keep working even harder than this year. We have a young team; but we have so much potential and so much ability, and we just can’t take it for granted,” she said. “We have to come strong starting already this summer and all through the fall and winter so that we’re ready to go in the spring.”
Baihly Warfield can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.