Falcons get strong performances from hitters, pitchers to go 10-2 on Florida trip
When the Falcons lost to Transylvania University two seasons ago, senior outfielder Aiyana Ledwein said she mainly remembers the team hitting bombs over their head in a 14-0 loss. However, the Falcons responded in an entirely different way this season when they took down Transylvania 3-2 in Florida.
“We got destroyed by them a couple of years ago and we had taken a loss before we played them,” Ledwein said. “We came back and knew they were a tough team but said, ‘let’s come back and play our game.’ It was so amazing and gives me confidence that we can take some of the tougher teams in the WIAC.”
The UWRF softball team finished up a successful spring break trip with a 10-2 record last week to improve to 13-3 on the season, already surpassing last season’s total win total.
“It’s a mentally long week,” head coach Amber Dohlman said about the Florida trip. “It’s about taking care of themselves and staying motivated and pushing through that. No other sport would think to do that kind of craziness (12 games in seven days).
Dohlman said that the week is important for prepping the team for the rest of the year. The team refers to the games as a “business trip.”
“We are different from other students on campus because it’s our responsibility to go down and perform our best,” Ledwein said. “We’re not just relaxing in Florida … we’re busy all day with games. We have to stay focused on softball the entire day. It was all focus, all day, every day.”
The Falcons took care of business by winning their first six games on the trip. The Falcons face a variety of teams from around the country with different skill levels, but Dohlman said she was happy to test out some different things and challenge them.
“We knew we were good hitters, but to see the quality of hitting … only one (player) hasn’t hit a home run in the starting lineup,” Dohlman said. “It’s pretty insane to see the baserunning numbers they’re putting up. It’s close to the whole season (last year) through only 16 games.”
The performance was even more impressive because the Falcons had only played four games in the Rochester Dome and practiced indoors since the start of the season.
“It’s hard because we haven’t done anything on dirt or real grass, only on turf,” Ledwein said, who is leading the team with 27 hits. “It’s way different running on the dirt and getting acclimated to the field again was different from what we’ve been doing.”
However, Ledwein said that seniors took the mentality that it was their last Florida trip and they wanted to make it their best.
“We want to have fun, and we do the best when we’re having fun,” Ledwein said. “This is our season, and that’s our mentality. This was my favorite Florida trip. We lost a couple of games, but it shows that we’re not perfect and that we can improve.”
One of the most impressive performances came from freshman pitcher Hannah Stegeman. She posted a 6-1 record in eight games with a 3.42 ERA. Dohlman said it was cool to see the future of the program by Stegeman coming in and throwing as much as she did.
“She really stepped up when we needed her in a couple of games and proved herself,” Ledwein said. “I was saying ‘wow’ in the outfield because she was killing it against big girls. I could tell that she really wanted to do good for the team.”
Senior Maddie Studnicka also already has four saves on the season, which Dohlman said is on pace for the team record of nine saves that Brittany Rathbun recorded in 2006. Dohlman added that Studnicka has been able to accept that closing role and be successful, even when she’s been put in jam situations to have to carry the team.
“I’ve been pretty much in that spot where one bad pitch could easily cost that game,” Studnicka said. “Me being a senior, I know that role and have been put there many times. Our starting pitchers really like that I can come in. It’s my best spot and I really enjoy it, even though it’s very nerve racking.”
Studnicka added that every game was important in Florida because of their ability to work as a team.
“It wasn’t just the pitcher doing all the work, it was the defense, offense, hitting, baserunning, talking and cheering,” she said. “When it’s all clicking, we know we’re going to win … that’s what we have to do going into WIAC play.”
While Studnicka was impressed with the new group of freshmen being able to step into roles in baserunning in hitting, her biggest takeaway was the team’s mental ability to rise above tough losses.
“The big loss (18-4 to Lake Forest College) was really hard for all of us,” Studnicka said. “We hadn’t gotten beat like that before this season, but we scrapped it and erased it and took the next game. It was awesome that we could learn from it but move on.”
UWRF will enter the rest of their regular season with their hitting already in mid-season form. Sophomore catcher Noelle Senour has hit six home runs in 12 games, which is on pace to break the record of 13 by Abbie Morris in 2014. Amber Galloway leads the team in runs with 21, while Kaia Dorn has an impressive .500 batting average in 36 plate appearances.
With a hectic week of softball finally over, the team has a few days to focus before their home opener against St. Mary’s University on March 29.
“It’s about getting everything to work together,” Dohlman said. “We saw what was capable, and if we can get those pieces to come together, they’re one of the best teams I’ve ever coached. They’re going to be tough to beat.”
Preseason ratings had the Falcons projected to finish second to last in the WIAC, but Ledwein said there may be more to come.
“Nobody knows how we’re coming for them. (The trip) boosted our confidence, and we’re going to go in with a mentality of we can take anyone. We’re not cocky, but we’re confident in our abilities.”
UWRF will host St. Mary’s at 2 p.m. on Thursday, March 29, before they head on the road for five straight games. They will return home on April 15 against Luther College.