The Gustavus softball team finished last season at 17-19 and 8-14 in the MIAC, good for eighth place. This season, a veteran returning core and a strong crop of younger players hopes to better both of those marks and reach the conference playoffs.
Head Coach Britt Stewart is in her fourth year at the helm and commented on the team’s prospects this season.
“We are really aiming to make the MIAC playoffs this season. We have a bunch of performance and outcome-based goals that we look to fulfill in our early season games to see how we stand in the MIAC. With the conference playoffs now having six teams and us finishing in eighth last year, we think it is something we can definitely accomplish. We lost a lot of close games last year so to take the talent we have and our senior leadership and to use all of that going into MIAC play I think overall we’re going to be a better team than we were last year,” Stewart said.
The senior leadership includes Aly Freeman, a stud on both offense and defense who batted .349 last year with eight home runs. She showed athleticism and leadership for many of the Gustie’s games too, going 8-9 with a 2.96 ERA in 101.2 innings of work and earning MIAC All-Conference honors.
For these performances and her work in the classroom, Freeman was named a CoSIDA Academic All-American.
Emily Carlson, another senior leader, is a calming influence behind the plate who catches nearly every game for the Gusties.
Caitlin Kammerer and Marissa Marsolek round out the veteran crew, providing versatility on defense and speed on the base paths.
Ashley Neuenfeldt serves as the other main pitcher for the Gusties and is also a force at the plate, leading the team with a .353 batting average and striking out just eight times in 119 at-bats.
For her work on the diamond she received the MIAC Honorable Mention award.
Stewart is also optimistic about the impact the incoming class can have on the season.
“We have six first-years coming in this year that are going to help contribute in multiple ways,” Stewart said. “Mackenzie Brey will help out our pitching staff and then we have a few other infielders and outfielders who are going to find playing time right away and compete for some positions which gives us more depth both defensively and offensively.”
The Gusties had a strong performance in their opening weekend, going 2-2 at the Rochester Regional Dome against strong competition.
In their first game, the black and gold faced the Dominican University Stars.
Dominican got the bats going early and jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first inning, but Gustavus answered right back with a six-run second frame and dominated the rest of the game.
The final score was 11-3, with Neuenfeldt pitching all five innings and allowing just one earned run.
Sophomore Xandra Zachman led the way offensively, going 3-3 with three RBI. Freeman and Carlson both had strong performances to start their senior campaign, going 2-4 with a double and 2-3 with a RBI, respectively.
In their second contest, Gustavus suffered a close loss at the hands of UW Eau Claire. Freeman started the game on the mound and went five innings with two earned runs allowed, and First-year Mackenzie Brey had a strong outing in her college debut, allowing just one hit in the last two innings.
Gustavus hopped out to an early 2-0 lead in the first inning, but were only able to tack on one more run throughout the rest of the game and were limited to just four hits.
UW-Eau Claire had an offensive spurt in the latter portion of the game, scoring two runs in both the fourth and fifth innings.
On Sunday, the Gusties opened up against Luther.
The Norse put together three runs in the first two innings, after which Gustavus answered back with a two-run third inning.
The rest of the game was scoreless, and Luther emerged with a narrow 3-2 win. Neuenfeldt led the team both at the plate and on the mound, going 2-3 with a run and stolen base and pitching all seven innings.
The Gusties finished out the weekend triumphant with another huge win over Mount Mary.
The game was tied 1-1 until the fifth inning, when the Gustavus offense exploded for 10 runs.
Neuenfeldt once again led the way at the plate, going 3-for-4 with two runs, two doubles, and an RBI.
Brey tossed all five innings, allowing one unearned run on one hits with eight strikeouts and two walks.
“Our first weekend together was a great opportunity to see the team compete. We played some tough competition and were able to get innings on the mound from our staff against quality opponents, produce throughout the lineup, and play tough defense,” Stewart said. “It gave us a great chance to see our 2020 team thus far, and we are excited to keep working this week in preparation for this weekend’s games.”
The Gusties will take the field in Rochester once again this coming weekend as they face Luther and Ripon on Saturday.