The 18th-ranked St. Thomas softball team (41-5) struggled offensively as No. 4 Luther College (40-4) defeated the Tommies 11-2 in the NCAA regional playoffs in Eau Claire, Wisc.
The loss drops the Tommies into the loser’s bracket and halts a 31-game winning streak. The team will now have to win its next three elimination games in a row to win the regional.
“Luther’s obviously a very talented team, and we knew that,” senior Cassie Smith said. “I think there were a lot of nerves carried into today’s game, and I think that we’re going to come back and do great tomorrow.”
Luther got on the board first, scoring three runs off senior pitcher Biz Sitzmann (18-2). With runners in scoring position and one out, the Tommies committed a fielding error that led to the inning’s first run. Two of the Norse’s first-inning runs were unearned.
“It kind of just changed the momentum a little bit. It’s nice to score first,” senior Alyssa Dunrud said. “We tried fighting, and it didn’t work today.”
In the bottom of the inning, senior Chandran Duffy started things off with a single. After stealing second base, Duffy advanced to third on senior All-American Sydney Marquardt’s ground out, but Lexy Determan (24-2) held the Tommies scoreless.
The Norse’s hot bats extended into the second inning, as they picked up four runs on four hits. Sitzmann was pulled three batters into the inning and replaced by Smith. Sitzmann gave up five runs on three hits and walked three batters.
“It was kind of just an off-day I think,” Dunrud said.”
With a 7-0 lead going into the third inning, the Norse added to their cushion with two additional runs. Smith gave up six earned runs on six hits through three innings and was replaced by Christy Gries, who retired all three batters she faced.
“The weather was really tough,” Smith said. “It kind of felt like your body was out of sync with what it normally does. I had a hard time staying warm and keeping the ball dry. I struggled with my change-up today, and I think once you take that out of my pitching tool box it’s easier to hit me and hit me hard.”
St. Thomas finally got on the board in the fourth inning when freshman Genny Duffy’s two-run double snapped the shutout, but it was little too late. The game was cut short due to the eight-run rule. On the day, the Tommies left nine runners on base.
The team will play a noon elimination game Sunday against Ripon, a team St. Thomas defeated 19-3 Friday. If the Tommies win, they will face Luther again at 2:30 p.m. Sunday.
“[Ripon] have some very talented batters,” Smith said. “I don’t think they’re going to roll over and die. They’re going to fight tomorrow, and we’re going to have to come out and do our best.”
Ryan Shaver can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.