Brady Boie – Staff Writer
The last week has been a joy ride for the Gustavus women’s softball team. The women had their best week of play all year, as they dismantled Crown College twice and split a very competitive double-header against Carleton.
The Gusties began their excursion on Thursday with a double-header at home against Crown College. Sophomore Kayla Ruud began the scoring spree in the first inning, as she socked an RBI double that scored first-year teammate Madelyn Mueller. Ruud also touched home plate in the first, scoring off of a Piper Otto ground-out. Otto, a first-year, was ecstatic about the Gusties’ great start.
“We adjusted super well (to the pitching) and had a great hitting performance. Our contagious hitting was our key to success. Whenever someone would get a hit, we would score them,” Otto said.
The Gusties’ contagious hitting continued throughout the rest of the game. Ruud went 4-4 at the plate and batted in three Gustie runners. Otto piled on with a two-run RBI single in the fifth inning. After the second runner scored, the scoreboard read 11-3. This score activated the mercy rule and ended the first game, as the Gusties were up by more than seven runs through the first five innings.
“The (first game) against Crown gave us our mojo back… we made the plays we needed to and everything just came together. It gave us confidence going into the last week of the season,” Otto said.
This regained confidence was on full display in the second game. The Gusties came out swinging in game two. After Ruud scored off of an error, Sophomore Allie Skuza singled to left and scored Otto. This was followed up by a two-run RBI double by Junior Kaylyn Leonard and an RBI triple by Mueller.
By the time the first inning ended, the Gusties had scored eight runs off of five hits and two errors. The game was effectively over. The Gusties added three more runs and the mercy rule was enforced at the end of the fifth inning. The final score read 11-0 in the favor of the Gusties.
The Gusties took the field three days later against Carleton College. Despite coming in with newfound confidence, the Gusties did not play particularly well in the first game.
“In the first game we came out flat and low energy… It was really disappointing because we knew that we were a better team than what we showed,” Otto said.
The Gusties fell behind early, allowing two runs in the first inning. By the time the sixth inning rolled around, the Gusties were staring at a 6-0 deficit and desperately needed to score. Senior Ashley Neunfeldt answered the call and smashed a solo home run in the bottom of the sixth. This bright spot was especially uplifting, as it satisfied one of Neunfeldt’s personal goals.
“(Watching Neuenfeldt’s homer) was my favorite moment. One of her only goals this year was to hit a home run on the Gustavus field because she had never done that before. Being able to congratulate her at the plate (after she homered) was such a happy moment for me (and the team),” Otto said.
Neunfeldt’s homer inspired the Gusties and kick-started their offense. The Gusties rattled off three runs in the bottom of the seventh inning. Unfortunately, their valiant effort fell just short. The Knights took game 1 with a score of 6-4.
As soon as the second game began, it was clear that the game was going to be a nail-biter. After being deadlocked at zeroes for the first two and a half innings, junior Mackenzie Skuza broke the scoring drought with a two-run RBI double. The Knights immediately responded at the top of the fourth and scored two runs to tie the game. In the fifth inning, both teams scored a run to make the score read 3-3.
The Gusties held strong in the top of the sixth, not allowing a single runner to reach first base. In the bottom of the sixth, the Gusties broke the game wide open with four huge hits. Neunfeldt’s single to left served as the nail in the coffin; it put the Gusties up 7-3 with a half-inning to go. The Gustie defense held strong, and the final score read 7-4.
This doubleheader was a heartwarming moment for Neuenfeldt. Neuenfeldtshowed up big on her senior day. She hit her long-awaited home home run, recorded her one hundredth career hit, and had a clutch batting performance in one of her last games as a Gustie. She was two for three at the plate and put the final dagger in Knights’ hearts with her single in the bottom of the sixth. Otto was in awe of Neunenfldt’s performance.
“She left it all out on the field on her senior night. It was probably her best game of the season, and I couldn’t be more happy for her. I can’t wait to see what she will do in the future,” Otto said.
Neunfeldt’s performance is emblematic of the teams’ season‒they have saved the best for last. The Gusties have won five of their last six games, and it sure seems like that hot streak will continue as their season draws to a close.