Eamonn McCullough – Staff Writer
The Gustavus softball team, finally in the throes of a short and exciting spring season, is starting to get accustomed to the feeling of victory after a week of domination on the pitch. On Wednesday, March 17, the Gusties started off their winning week with a pair of non-conference victories in Mankato.
The day started early, with a 7 a.m. first pitch against Concordia-Moorhead, with the Gusties showing off their defensive prowess off the bat. Gustavus was able to score at the bottom of the fourth inning with the help of Sophomore Kate Murray and an RBI from Sophomore Allie Skuza. The Gusties continued to circle the bases as First-year Madelyn Mueller hit a bunt and Senior Ashley Nuenfeldt walked shortly thereafter.
The momentum was preserved by a pair of steals that eventually led to Mueller’s run through home to bring the score to 2-0. The inning ended at 3-0 Gusties after Neuenfeldt closed with a run. Neuenfeldt had a strong game as a pitcher as well, pitching seven innings and preventing the Cobbers from scoring a single time.
Later that morning, the Gusties were back in action against the Finlandia University Lions, another winning matchup where the opponent was left scoreless. Neuenfeldt and Junior Kaylyn Leonard continued their electric morning with Neuenfeldt putting a point up off a single hit by Leonard. The next score came from Sophomore Kayla Ruud, who glided through home to help the Gusties finish the first inning 2-0. After a scoreless second from the Lions, Gustavus first year Piper Otto opened the third with a triple, setting the tone that allowed the Gusties to finish the game 4-0.
The Gusties were far from finished, though, starting their next day of competition at 7 a.m. the following morning, Thursday, Mar. 18, against Bethany Lutheran. Gustavus was up early with a run from First-year Payton Belt, who hit a single to get on base, crossed to second, and was set up on third to go home with a single hit by Skuza. By the bottom of the fourth, however, it was clear that Bethany was to mount an insurmountable response, and the Gusties were dealt their first loss of the tournament, falling 3-1.
Later that day, Finlandia got a shot at redemption against the Gusties, but Gustavus shut down the Lions early on with a dominant 2-0 lead in the third inning. The mid-game scoring runs were highlighted by a pair of steals from Mueller and First-year Taylor Braun, as well as a clean run from Junior Sierra Meyer. Finlandia had no intention of going easy this game, and responded with a run at the top of the fourth.
The Gusties replied with a run from Otto, bringing the score up to 3-1 for Gustavus. Several Gusties would run away with the game in the next innings, and although Finlandia scored once more off a double in the sixth inning, Murray, Meyer and First-year Isabel Reuvers all came full circle to clinch the Gustavus victory 6-2.
The heat of intercollegiate competition once again gave the Gusties a chance to measure their improvement, as well as a way to quantify their goals for the rest of the season.
“The biggest thing we learned was that we can’t let up. Once you step on the gas you got to keep going. In our first game we scored in the first inning which is huge but we didn’t score for a while after that. We have to capitalize on that inning and continue to score from the jump,” Otto said.
Fresh off a mid-week tournament of ups and downs, the Gusties were at it again, this time for a road double-header at Northwestern College on Saturday, March 20. An outdoor setting was a departure from the Gusties’ previous tournament in Mankato, and the crisp spring weather served to buoy team spirits.
“The biggest change was definitely playing outside with masks on. We were so excited to get to feel the breeze on our faces when we were on the field. You have to learn how to play with a mask on, so I’m glad we have been practicing with them. We are going to have some funny tan lines at the end of the season, that’s for sure,” Otto said.
It didn’t take long for things to fall into place for the team, and the Gusties won both of their games. The Gustie depth on display during Wednesday and Thursday’s tournament once again took center stage as Mueller scored off a third base error, followed closely by her teammate Neuenfeldt. Although the Eagles rallied to take the lead 4-2 in the bottom of the fourth, the Gusties made massive moves in the fifth, sixth, and seventh innings to bar Northwestern from the scoreboard while putting up nine more points to win 11-4.
“The most exciting thing about this weekend was the energy on the bench in our second game against northwestern. You could really tell the whole team was ready to go and fight back if they scored. That game was a really good team win,” Otto said.
That afternoon, it was the Eagles who put points on the board first in the bottom of the third, but the Gusties were quick to respond, with Braun hitting a single to free up Leonard and Skuza to score and tie the game. Northwestern kept it close later in the fourth inning, scoring three more runs to wrest the lead from the Gusties once again, but in the next two innings Gustavus scored six more runs to regain and extend their lead. The Gusties held on through the seventh inning to come away with their second win of the day, 10-6.
The Gusties will be back in action on Thursday, April 3, in their home opener against Hamline. It will be another double-header, with the first pitch of the first game scheduled for 1 p.m. One big change for this weekend will include space for a limited number of fans.