Titans gain momentum going into WIAC conference postseason play

Michael Johrendt

Senior Sara Brunlieb looks to deliver a pitch against UW-Whitewater on April 22. Brunlieb has a 12-3 record on the year with 94 strikeouts and a 2.31 ERA.
[/media-credit] Senior Sara Brunlieb looks to deliver a pitch against UW-Whitewater on April 22. Brunlieb has a 12-3 record on the year with 94 strikeouts and a 2.31 ERA.
Claire Petrus catches a fly ball in the outfield against UWW.
[/media-credit] Claire Petrus catches a fly ball in the outfield against UWW.

In preparation for postseason action, the UW Oshkosh softball team added four victories to its season record to finish the regular season with 29 wins against nine losses. By recording wins against UW-River Falls and UW-Stout, the Titans secured third place in the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference heading into the playoffs.

UWO only allowed six runs over four games to end the season while putting up 15 in four wins.

In the two road victories against River Falls, Oshkosh took care of the last-place Falcons by only allowing three runners to cross home plate in the series sweep.

In the first game of the doubleheader, Oshkosh used an early offensive barrage to win 4-2. Senior pitcher Sara Brunlieb earned her 11th victory of the season in a complete-game effort, only allowing two runs on seven hits and earning seven punchouts.

Offensively, the Titans were supported by sophomore catcher Abby Menting, who reached base in every at-bat and drove in two runs. Her first-inning home run to center capped off the scoring in the opening frame for Oshkosh, bringing home the second and third runs of the inning.

Other scoring in the game came on a passed ball that scored sophomore outfielder Emma Fionda to open the game, with junior third baseman Erika Berry scoring with an RBI double an inning later in the top of the second that brought freshman outfielder Natalie Dillon around to score.

Head coach Scott Beyer said the team’s strengths really shined through at the end of the season, especially with ending the season on the road going into the playoffs.

“Our mentality on the road, especially during conference road games, is that we are down one run,” Beyer said. “That is our mentality getting off the bus because it is difficult to play on the road and it is even harder to play in our conference on the road. It is going to be a great challenge for us, and how we compete on the road and how we acclimate ourselves to the field we are playing on and the team we are playing [is important].”

In the second contest of the day, the Titans again jumped out to an early lead in the first and never looked back, winning 6-1. Freshman pitcher Claire Petrus brought home her fifth win of the year, providing the second complete-game effort of the day for Oshkosh.

Petrus allowed the lone run on seven hits, striking out four in the win. Petrus’ record now sits at five wins against one loss going into the WIAC playoffs.

The Titans spread their scoring over three innings, as they tallied runs in the first, third and fifth innings of the game. Menting got the scoring going, bringing Fionda around to score on an RBI single.

In the third, Oshkosh tacked on three more runs via the long ball, as Petrus helped her own cause with a two-run bomb and freshman second baseman Amanda McIlhany added a solo shot of her own.

To finish off the scoring, Petrus again helped herself with an RBI double into right field in the fifth inning, with senior left fielder Lauren Torborg coming around to score. The team put its final stamp on the game with freshman shortstop Natalie Dudek’s run-scoring single down the line in left field that brought Petrus home.

Assistant coach Lynn Anderson said even with the team facing pressure as the season comes to an end, senior leadership on the team has helped them immensely as the playoffs approach.

“I think a lot of teams go through that where they start to feel the pressure of now it is the end of the season,” Anderson said. “You kind of want to finish on a high note here. It is really helpful to have that support and to even teach the younger kids how we do the program, how we run it and our goals as a program and what we want to succeed in.”

In Sunday’s doubleheader against Stout, UWO scored only five runs over the course of the two-game series, but was able to rely on solid pitching and defense to take both games.

The first game was a very low-scoring affair, as the only run was scored in the opening inning of the game by Oshkosh. A ground ball hit by sophomore first-baseman Kaitlyn Krol to Stout’s third baseman scored Fionda, the only run of the game, as Oshkosh held on for a 1-0 victory.

Brunlieb had her second complete game in as many days, earning her 12th win. She pitched a four-hit shutout, only allowing one walk while striking out three.

The effort on the mound by Brunlieb speaks to the type of leadership seniors like Brunlieb provide the team, something sophomore catcher Jordan Manthei said has had a big impact on the team’s development.

“To me, this is my first year here, and it is cool to see how much the players respect and look up to all the seniors here, because it is my first time meeting all of them,” Manthei said. “I understand now why they are so special because they are all unique in one way. They are all great people and great players.”

This marks the fourth third-place finish for the team since 2010. Oshkosh has not earned an opportunity to play in the NCAA postseason tournament since 2008.

The Titans came into the season wanting to improve, as UWO specifically wanted to look at its season in five stages. Torborg said the team looks to further its efforts as the postseason begins.

“The ultimate goal for our team is to make it to the NCAA tournament,” Torborg said. “In years past, when it came down to the WIAC conference tournament, the team lost sight of what its end goal was and were merely going through the motions. Hopefully by having this new mindset, we won’t have this problem again.”

After finishing in third place in the conference standings, Oshkosh will face off against second-seeded UW-La Crosse on Friday. The top five teams earned berths into the postseason tournament for the WIAC, hosted by top-seeded UW-Whitewater. Whitewater won the WIAC at 33-7.