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Titans, Eagles Clash In WIAC Championship Opener

Titans, Eagles Clash In WIAC Championship Opener

UW-Oshkosh opens the WIAC Softball Championship (presented by Culver's) against UW-La Crosse on Friday (May 3) in Whitewater. The first pitch is scheduled for 10 a.m. at UW-Whitewater's van Steenderen Softball Complex.

UW-Oshkosh (21-15), attempting to become the first fifth-seeded team to win the WIAC Championship, is vying for its second league postseason title and first since 2008.

The winner between UW-Oshkosh and fourth-seeded UW-La Crosse (20-16) advances to play host and top-seeded UW-Whitewater (26-10) at 2 p.m. Friday.

Friday's games also include second-seeded UW-Eau Claire (24-9-1) facing third-seeded UW-Platteville (18-18) at noon. The losers of the first two contests will battle in an elimination game at 4 p.m.

The double-elimination WIAC Championship continues with three games Saturday (May 4) and concludes with the title contest Sunday (May 5). The winner of the WIAC tournament earns the league's automatic berth into the 62-team NCAA Division III Championship that commences May 9.

UW-Whitewater claimed last year's WIAC Championship with a 6-5 win over UW-Oshkosh in the title game. The Warhawks have won each of the last six and a league-leading 10 overall WIAC tournaments.

UW-Oshkosh and UW-La Crosse will be meeting for the 13th time in the conference tournament and the fourth time in the past five years. The Titans have won eight of their previous 12 matchups with the Eagles at the WIAC Championship, but UW-La Crosse has won the last two postseason meetings between the teams, defeating UW-Oshkosh in the first round in both 2016 and 2017.

The Titans and Eagles split their WIAC-opening doubleheader in La Crosse on April 6 as UW-La Crosse won the first game, 6-3, before UW-Oshkosh claimed the nightcap by a 12-2 score in five innings. The Titans' win was their largest over the Eagles since a 10-0 decision during the first-ever meeting between the teams in 1982.

UW-Oshkosh, which owns a WIAC-best 11-3 record in neutral site games this season, enters the postseason tournament with one the league's best offenses and defenses.

The Titans pace the conference with a .970 fielding percentage and 12 double plays turned while leading the league with a .382 on-base percentage and sharing the WIAC lead with UW-Whitewater by scoring 5.3 runs per game. UW-Oshkosh, which ranks second in the WIAC with a .310 batting average, has the only offense in the conference with more walks (96) than strikeouts (88).

UW-Oshkosh features 10 players, including six in the regular starting lineup, hitting better than .290 on the year. Natalie Dudek leads the team with a .368 average and ranks second in the conference with a .460 on-base percentage. Team leaders also include Amanda McIlhany with 36 hits, Claire Petrus with five home runs and 27 runs batted in, Dudek and Abby Menting with seven doubles, and Acacia Tupa with 24 runs, seven stolen bases and a .600 slugging percentage. Kaitlyn Krol is getting on base at a .441 clip for the Titans.

UW-Oshkosh committed just seven errors and hit 13 of its 16 home runs during the 14-game WIAC schedule.

Bailey Smaney headlines the Titan pitching staff with a 13-7 record, a 2.52 earned run average, 62 strikeouts and five shutouts. She leads the WIAC with 119.1 innings pitched and is tied atop the league in victories.

The potent UW-La Crosse offense, averaging 4.6 runs per game, is leading the conference with 73 doubles, 19 home runs and a .448 slugging percentage. The Eagles, who are hitting .305 on the year, collected a season-high five doubles in their win over UW-Oshkosh earlier this season.

Mia Schmidtke is hitting .315 for the Eagles this year with a WIAC-leading eight home runs while Kendra Leis paces the squad with a .381 average, 43 hits, 14 doubles and 26 runs batted in.

Caitlyn Hughes helms the UW-La Crosse pitching staff, producing a 12-4 record with a 2.97 earned run average and 78 strikeouts in 94.1 innings.

UW-Whitewater boasts the WIAC's best pitching staff with a 1.75 earned run average, 11 shutouts and 228 strikeouts. The Warhawks back up their stellar pitchers with an offense that is hitting .304 on the year with 15 home runs and a league-high 12 triples.

UW-Whitewater's Dani Biesiada (2-2) is the league leader with a 1.07 earned run average and five saves while ranking second with a .177 opponent batting average. Her save total is tied for the most in the country while her earned run average lists ninth. Bella Matthias (13-2), who ranks second in the league with a 1.24 earned run average and fourth nationally by allowing 3.66 hits per seven innings, is the WIAC co-leader in wins and paces the conference in strikeouts (136), shutouts (6) and opponent batting average (.154).

Offensive leaders for UW-Whitewater include Kayla Seymour's .383 batting average and .453 on-base percentage, Emily Rux's 39 hits and Meg Cohrs' 23 runs batted in. Caitlin Catino has a team-best .578 slugging percentage, 28 runs scored, eight doubles, five triples and three home runs. UW-Whitewater's Vera Pflugradt, last season's WIAC Position Player of the Year, is batting .342.

Reigning WIAC Pitcher of the Year Julia Camardo has compiled an 11-6 record for the Warhawks this season with a 2.70 earned run average.

UW-Eau Claire ranks second in the conference with a 2.22 earned run average and last with a .265 batting average. The Blugolds' 7-6 win at UW-Oshkosh was the only occasion in which UW-Eau Claire allowed more than four runs in conference play this year.

Abbey Place paces the Blugolds with a .336 batting average, 36 hits, 10 doubles, 18 runs batted in. Katie Rongstad is hitting .307 for UW-Eau Claire with a team-high .432 slugging and .415 on-base percentages, and 23 stolen bases.

The UW-Eau Claire pitching staff is led by Sarah Peka and Cheyenne Johnson, who have combined for a 17-8 record with a 1.66 earned run average and 89 strikeouts in 185.1 innings. The duo has accounted for more than 77 percent of the team's innings pitched on the year.

UW-Platteville enters the weekend last among the WIAC Championship field with a .274 batting average and 4.3 runs per game this season. However, the Pioneers, making their first league postseason appearance since 2014, earned the program's highest seed since 2003 by beating each WIAC Championship qualifier at least once this year.

The Pioneers, who drew a conference-best 43 walks and collected 25 doubles during league play, are led offensively by Rachel Martin's .364 batting average, 39 hits, 11 doubles, two home runs, 27 runs batted in, .542 slugging percentage and .444 on-base percentage.

In the UW-Platteville pitcher's circle, Ashton Hoeppner and Abby Burns have combined for a 15-16 record and three saves with a 2.68 earned run average and 148 strikeouts in 198.1 of the team's 236.2 total innings pitched. Hoeppner paces the league with 20 pitching starts and ranks second in the WIAC in innings pitched (112) and strikeouts (95).

UW-Eau Claire has won six WIAC Championship titles, including back-to-back crowns in 2006 and 2007. UW-La Crosse claimed its two league postseason championships in 2009 and 2010, while UW-Platteville is seeking its second title and first since 1992.

UW-Oshkosh, UW-Eau Claire and UW-Whitewater are the only programs to appear at each of the 35 WIAC Championships since 1985. The six-time defending champion Warhawks sport an 81-47 record in the league postseason while UW-Eau Claire is 65-53, UW-Oshkosh is 48-58, UW-Platteville is 43-43 and UW-La Crosse is 44-53.

The fifth seed has advanced to the conference tournament title game just three times. UW-River Falls accomplished the feat in 2008 and 2009 before fifth-seeded UW-La Crosse reached the final game in 2014.

WIAC Softball Championship Website