Falcons softball uses timely pitching to split with St. Mary’s
The Falcons softball team split a series against St. Mary’s University last Thursday in their first action since spring break. UWRF took a high-scoring game one by a score of 10-9 but fell to the Cardinals 6-3 in game two.
The game was originally scheduled to be played as UWRF’s home opener, but snow and difficult weather conditions forced the switch to play in Winona, Minn. The Falcons already had their doubleheader against Northwestern cancelled on Wednesday, so they were willing to make the change to get a game in.
“It’s always disappointing when you can’t play at home, but it wasn’t as disappointing because we’ve known for weeks that (cancelling) it was going to happen,” head coach Amber Dohlman said.
Dohlman said that the fields in Winona were in great condition before the start of the game. Both teams came up scoreless in the first two innings of game one, with the first run coming from Cardinals freshman Tara Nikolich in the third inning. The Falcons responded with strong bats in a similar fashion as the rest of the season, scoring six runs in the fourth and fifth innings. Kai Dorn hit her third homerun of the year to make the game 2-1 in the fourth, and Maddie Studnicka drove in two RBIs in the fifth to go up 8-1.
“(Dorn) had a great game with the four RBIs, and her homerun was a rocket,” Dohlman said. “She’s a competitor and a fire, and she’s had a great year for us so far. She finds a way to get on base and start things for us.”
However, the game changed when the Falcons usual closer Studnicka came in for starting pitcher Hannah Stegeman after 3.2 innings pitched and only one run allowed. Studnicka currently leads all of Division III in saves, but in game one she could only last a third of an inning, giving up five runs on four hits after facing only six batters. Dohlman said it was “probably the roughest outing she’s had this year.”
She added that the team battled with illegal pitching in the game, so it took everybody a while to calm down and adjust to the umpire’s strike zone. Luckily for the Falcons, their usual starter Payton Speckel came in for Studnicka and closed the game out by only allowing three earned runs over her three innings of work.
“I usually start and set the pace, so coming in to close was definitely different for me,” Speckel said. “I’ve never been in that role, but it was fun for them to count on me and trust me to finish the game.”
The Falcons hitters helped out by getting crucial runs in the sixth and seventh innings to give Speckel a 10-8 lead to hold onto entering the seventh. UWRF currently sits at fifth in Division III for batting average at .391, which Speckel said definitely gives her more confidence when she’s on the mound.
Speckel only allowed one run in the seventh inning, picking up a crucial win over the 5-8 Cardinals to give herself a 7-1 record on the season.
“This year I’ve had a stronger changeup, and the drastic change in speed has kept batters imbalanced,” Speckel said. “I definitely have more confidence when I’m pitching this year because I’m stronger, faster and have another year of experience under my belt.”
Dohlman said that the team hasn’t had this much quality depth at pitchers in the last couple of seasons. Dohlman said that she’s able to mix and match her pitchers because they’re completely different and complement each other well.
Along with the stability and depth the pitching staff of Speckel, Studnicka and Stegeman has provided, Speckel said the transition between pitchers can be challenging for opposing batters.
“Between me and Maddie (Studnicka), there’s a huge difference in our styles of pitching,” Speckel said. “She has a lot of movement on her ball, while I throw a lot faster. It’s hard to adjust from the speed and for batter to adjust their hands and timing for the swing.”
Unlike most games for Speckel, she came out in game two having already thrown to almost all of the Cardinals batters. She came out strong in the first two innings, allowing only three hits and no runs.
“Our fielders did a good job of being on their toes and being ready to go,” Speckel said. “Starting that second game I was giving them more pitch selection so they couldn’t see the same thing all over again.”
Speckel still went her usual six innings throughout the two games, but finally allowed the Cardinals to jump on top of her when they strung together five singles in the third inning to take a 3-0 advantage. UWRF battled back in the fourth as Ali Krohn hit a two RBI single and Aiyana Ledwein drove in a run to tie the game at 3-3.
Stegeman had a tougher time for the Falcons in game two after a strong opening performance in game one, giving up three runs in the fifth to give St. Mary’s a 6-3 lead that wouldn’t be overcome. Speckel and Dohlman both echoed the fact that the UWRF hitters couldn’t seem to find any gaps on the day and were hitting the ball directly to the Cardinals’ fielders.
“It wasn’t like they were overpowering us, but they had more timely hitting,” Dohlman said.
Studnicka made up for her game one performance by striking out six batters in only two innings of work, but the Falcons couldn’t get the bats going before falling 6-3.
“I think we definitely could’ve taken both games,” Speckel said. “We could’ve adjusted sooner and hitting the gaps will be important moving forward in the season.”
Speckel also thought the defense still has room for improvement. If that can come together with their strong baserunning and hitting, “That could bring us all the way to the WIAC tournament at the end of the season,” Speckel said.
UWRF now stands at 14-4 overall as they approach WIAC play this weekend. With tougher tests approaching, Dohlman said there’s still work to be done.
“I’m never pleased with a split,” Dohlman said. “We’re better than that team, and we should be beating average teams on a daily basis. We’re too good to settle for a loss like that right now.”
The Falcons will have a chance to open up their WIAC season this Saturday and Sunday when they travel to UW-Whitewater and UW-Oshkosh for doubleheaders, weather permitting.