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Titans Slug Their Way To Two Comeback Wins To Begin WIAC Championship

Emma Fionda is 7-for-10 at the plate during the Titans' three games against UW-La Crosse this season.
Emma Fionda is 7-for-10 at the plate during the Titans' three games against UW-La Crosse this season.

UW-Oshkosh pounded out 25 hits, including three home runs, on the way to winning a pair of games in comeback fashion to open the WIAC Softball Championship on Friday (May 3) in Whitewater.

Fifth-seeded UW-Oshkosh (23-15) scored 10 runs in the top of the seventh inning to defeat fourth-seeded UW-La Crosse (20-17), 13-4, during the league tournament opener. The Titans then scored the final seven runs of the game en route to upsetting top-seeded and six-time defending champion UW-Whitewater (26-11) by a 7-2 score in the second round.

The Titans, who reached the WIAC Championship final last season, beat UW-Whitewater in Whitewater for the first time since 2008 behind back-to-back home runs from Kailee Garstecki and Grace Stevens, and three runs batted in by Acacia Tupa. UW-Oshkosh's 10-run outburst against UW-La Crosse was its highest-scoring inning since rallying 13 runs during the second frame against Edgewood College in 2017.

UW-Oshkosh advances to play in the winner's bracket championship game against second-seeded UW-Eau Claire (25-9-1) on Saturday (May 4) in Whitewater.

Friday's WIAC Championship results also included UW-Eau Claire downing third-seeded UW-Platteville, 8-3, and UW-La Crosse eliminating UW-Platteville (18-19) by a 5-1 score during the final game of the day.

League postseason action continues Saturday with UW-Whitewater hosting UW-La Crosse at noon and an elimination contest at 2 p.m. The championship game of the conference tournament is set for Sunday (May 5). The winner of the double-elimination WIAC Championship earns the league's automatic berth into the 62-team NCAA Division III Championship that commences next week.

UW-Oshkosh, which entered the weekend leading the five-team WIAC Championship field in scoring, batting average and on-base percentage, produced a .373 batting average in the two games Friday to go along with a .567 slugging percentage and a .447 on-base percentage.

Tupa went a combined 4-for-9 at the plate for UW-Oshkosh with three doubles, one walk, three runs scored and four runs batted in. Ten different Titans collected hits on the day, including three each from Garstecki, Stevens, Natalie Dudek, Emma Fionda and Abby Menting, who added three runs batted in.

Dudek hit her second home run of the season during the opener while Garstecki launched her first of the year during the second contest before Stevens followed with her first collegiate homer.

In the first game of the day, UW-La Crosse built a 4-3 lead after five innings on the strength of a pair of home runs, but UW-Oshkosh roared back by sending 15 batters to the plate en route to scoring 10 runs in the top of the seventh frame.

Dudek opened the scoring with a home run in the top of the second inning before UW-La Crosse's Kendra Leis answered with a homer of her own during the home half of the frame to knot the score at 1.

UW-Oshkosh reclaimed a 3-1 advantage in the third inning following consecutive two-out, run-scoring singles from Menting and Dudek. However, the Eagles tied the score at 3 in the bottom of the fourth frame and took their only lead at 4-3 on a solo home run by Sabrina Scardamaglia in the fifth.

Titans relief pitcher Claire Petrus worked around a leadoff single in the bottom of the sixth inning, and the UW-Oshkosh onslaught in the top of the seventh began with six consecutive baserunners as Stevens walked, Fionda singled and Tupa walked to load the bases. A passed ball allowed pinch-runner Chloe Lambie to score the tying run, and Fionda crossed the plate with the eventual game-winning run via a wild pitch on ball four to Petrus.

The Titan rally continued with back-to-back singles from Menting and Dudek to increase their lead to 6-4. UW-Oshkosh tacked on its final seven runs of the seventh inning on a groundout by Garstecki, an Eagle error, singles from Amanda McIlhany and Fionda, a double by Tupa and a sacrifice fly from Petrus.

Dudek and Fionda both finished the game 3-for-4. Menting added a pair of hits and two RBIs.

Petrus (9-8) picked up the win in relief, holding the Eagles to one run on three hits with four strikeouts and zero walk across the final three innings.

Leis went 3-for-3 with two RBIs to pace the Eagles, who went into the WIAC Championship leading the league in doubles, home runs and slugging percentage.

UW-La Crosse relief pitcher Sydne Shattuck suffered the loss after surrendering eight runs on seven hits in 3.2 innings. She walked three and struck out two.

During the upset victory in the second round, UW-Oshkosh outhit UW-Whitewater, 11-3, as the Warhawks' vaunted pitching staff matched a season high for hits allowed. The Warhawks, who allowed at least seven runs for just the third time this year, went into the matchup with a league-leading 1.75 earned run average, 11 shutouts and 228 strikeouts.

Titans relief pitcher Bailey Smaney held UW-Whitewater scoreless on two hits – both singles – over the final 4.2 innings on the way to improving her season record to 14-7. Smaney, who recorded one strikeout without issuing a walk Friday, now leads the conference in wins and innings pitched (128) while pacing the team with a 2.52 earned run average. She delivered a scant 37 pitches while recording her 14 outs against the Warhawks.

Smaney made the lead hold up after the Titans scored three times in the fourth inning. McIlhany hit a one-out single to spark the rally. Garstecki then hit a game-tying two-run homer off of UW-Whitewater starting pitcher Bella Matthias before Stevens greeted Warhawks reliever Julia Camardo with a towering home run to left field. Matthias ranked fourth in the country by allowing just 3.66 hits per seven innings heading into Friday, while Camardo is the reigning WIAC Pitcher of the Year.

The Titans tacked on three insurance runs in the top of the sixth inning on a two-run double by Tupa and Menting's RBI groundout that plated Tupa after she made a head-first diving dash to the plate on the play.

Tupa then capped the scoring with an RBI double in the top of the seventh inning. Smaney, aided by sterling defensive plays by McIlhany at second base and Fionda in left field, pitched around leadoff singles in both the fourth and sixth innings. Smaney stranded the tying run at third base with a strikeout to end the fourth frame and induced an inning-ending double play in the sixth inning.

Tupa, who is hitting .600 over the past four games, was 3-for-5 at the plate against UW-Whitewater with a pair of doubles and three RBIs.

Garstecki and Stevens both added two hits for the Titans. Garstecki ended the game 2-for-2 with a home run, two walks, three runs scored and two RBIs.

Kayla Seymour accounted for two of UW-Whitewater's three hits.

Camardo (11-7) was charged with the loss, yielding four runs on six hits in two innings pitched.

UW-Oshkosh, attempting to become the first fifth-seeded team to win the WIAC Championship, will battle UW-Eau Claire for the third time during the past four years in the league postseason. The Titans ousted the Blugolds from the 2017 conference tournament by a 9-1 score in their most recent postseason meeting.

Photo by Paul Fionda