UW-Oshkosh claimed its second NCAA Division III softball regional championship and first since 1988 with an 8-3 victory over nationally ranked UW-La Crosse on Sunday (May 14).
The Titans swept through the four-team La Crosse Regional, winning by scores of 2-0 over Benedictine University (Ill.) on Friday (May 12) and 4-2 over UW-La Crosse on Saturday (May 13).
UW-Oshkosh (33-11) advances to play at Trine University (Ind.) in the best-of-three game Angola Super Regional. Trine University (35-8) won the Whitewater Regional with three consecutive victories and will host the Titans in the opening game of their series at 4 p.m. (EDT) Friday (May 19).
In their regional-clinching triumph, the Titans pounded out 12 hits, including five for extra bases. UW-Oshkosh erased a 2-0 deficit with a four-run bottom of the first inning before exploding for four more runs – all with two outs – in the third frame.
Natalie Dillon went 3-for-3 for the Titans while Erika Berry, Natalie Dudek and Kaitlyn Krol each added a pair of hits. Berry, Dillon and Brianna Witter each delivered doubles, and Dudek hit a double and a triple. UW-Oshkosh scored its final six runs on two-out hits.
UW-Oshkosh's Sara Brunlieb, the La Crosse Regional Most Outstanding Player, pitched seven full innings of relief to earn the victory. She scattered seven hits and gave up just one run while recording one strikeout and issuing one walk.
Brunlieb (14-5) entered the game in relief of UW-Oshkosh starting pitcher Bailey Smaney with the Titans trailing, 2-0, with no outs in the top of the first inning. Brunlieb escaped the first frame by retiring the first three Eagles batters she faced, stranding runners at first and second bases. UW-Oshkosh recorded the third out of the first inning on a spectacular diving catch by second baseman Amanda McIlhany on a hard-hit line drive.
Krol followed with a single that drove home Dudek and knotted the score at 2. A two-out single by Berry extended the inning for McIlhany, who singled to score Krol with the go-ahead run. Witter then reached on a fielder's choice to load the bases ahead of Dillon, who drove in the eventual game-winning run with a bunt single.
Brunlieb pitched around UW-La Crosse baserunners in the second, fourth and fifth innings before the Eagles trimmed their deficit to 8-3 on a run-scoring single by Brittany Baldwin with two outs in the sixth inning.
UW-La Crosse (30-16), ranked 24th by the National Fastpitch Coaches Association, got a one-out single in the seventh inning, but Brunlieb secured the win by getting a flyout and a popup to Dudek at shortstop to end the game.
The Eagles collected nine hits, including two each from Baldwin, Stephanie Cole and Sydney Murphy.
UW-La Crosse starting pitcher Jessie Carignan (13-6) was charged with the loss, surrendering four runs on five hits and one walk in one-plus innings.
Eagles relief pitcher Caitlyn Hughes allowed four runs on five hits in 1.2 innings of work before Katie Klein held UW-Oshkosh scoreless over the final 3.1 frames.
UW-Oshkosh landed five players on the All-La Crosse Regional Team. Joining Brunlieb were Berry, Dillon, Dudek and Krol.
Brunlieb garnered Most Outstanding Player recognition by pitching a four-hit shutout in the opener against Benedictine University, earning a save with three scoreless innings against UW-La Crosse on Saturday and providing her seven-inning relief stint on Sunday. She concluded the three-day regional with a 0.41 earned run average in 17 innings pitched.
Berry hit .364 with a pair of doubles, one run scored and one run batted in at the La Crosse Regional while Dillon hit .571 with a double, one run scored and two RBIs.
Dudek batted .444 with a double, a triple, three runs scored and two runs batted in, and Krol hit .455 with two runs scored and four RBIs.
As a team, UW-Oshkosh concluded the La Crosse Regional with a .350 batting average and a 1.00 earned run average.
On the way to the regional title, UW-Oshkosh avenged four of its losses this season. The Titans lost, 4-2, to Benedictine University on March 18 in Clermont, Fla., and suffered three straight setbacks to UW-La Crosse, falling by scores of 5-0 and 4-1 on April 17 in La Crosse, and 5-2 in the WIAC Tournament opener on May 5 in Whitewater.
UW-Oshkosh advances past the opening weekend of the NCAA postseason for the first time since claiming the Whitewater Regional in 1988. The Titans went on to place sixth at the 1988 championship after suffering a pair of one-run losses at the final tournament in Elmhurst, Ill.
The Division III super regional format debuted in 2014.
Photo courtesy of Paul Fionda