Cougars make 1st trip to softball championship
For the first time in program history, the University of Minnesota, Morris softball team advanced to the championship game of the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference (UMAC) Tournament, ending the Cougars' record-setting season with a 9-0 loss to St. Scholastica.
On Friday, the Cougars opened their tournament run with a 3-0 win loss to Northwestern, falling into the loser's bracket of the double-elimination tournament.
In their second game, the Cougars opened up the offense in a 17-9, six-inning win over Northland, sending the LumberJills home.
The win over Northland was the first ever UMAC Tournament win for the Cougars since joining the conference in 2004.
The offense got going early and often, scoring twice in the first inning, before blowing the game open with five in the third. A homerun by Mercedes Klimek started the rally, followed by an RBI triple from Kelli Hamilton and RBI singles form Natasha Wiebold and Jordan Iverson.
The Jills got four back the next half-inning, but the Cougars answered right back with five more in the fourth, taking a 13-7 lead, on their way to the win. Up 15-9 heading into the bottom of the sixth, a two-RBI double from Klimek put the Cougars up by eight and ended the game.
The win is the 18th of the season for the Cougars, tying the record for wins in a season set just last year.
Hamilton started and went 3.1 innings to earn her seventh win of the year, while Mariah Essig threw the final 2.2 to get the save.
The Cougars opened the day with a rough loss to Northwestern, with the Eagles taking the game's first lead with a lone run in the fifth. They held the Cougars to just five hits, while adding two more in the seventh for the win.
Of those eight hits, two came from Molly Olson, who also collected one against Northland to extend her hitting streak to 27-straight games.
Iverson and Klimek led the offense on the day with four hits each, while Heather Brown joined Olson with three hits, including two doubles.
Despite the loss in game one, Essig pitched 9.2 innings on the day, while fanning 10, moving her season total over the 100 mark with 102 in her freshman campaign.
In beginning the day with a 5-4 elimination-game win over Northwestern, the Cougars secured their program record 19th victory, breaking the school record for wins for the third consecutive year.
The Cougars took full advantage of four Eagle errors in the game, scoring their five runs on just eight hits, while only one run was charged to Northwestern starter Kelsey Timm.
Morris starter Mariah Essig pitched all seven innings, allowing nine hits, while striking out four, and was largely untouched except for a three-run fifth that tied the game.
After each team scored in the second, the Cougars went up 3-1 after the third and extended the lead with a run in the fourth. After the Eagles tied the game in the top of the fifth, the Cougars went right back on top on a Kelsey Draper RBI single in the bottom of the inning, eventually holding on for the win.
In their first ever championship game, the Cougars met up with top seeded St. Scholastica, the one team in UMAC play that the Cougars could not beat during the regular season.
The Saints wasted little time in putting up runs, scoring four times in the first and never looking back. They added three more in the second and two more in the third, eventually closing out the 9-0 win in five innings.
The Cougars were held to just four hits, including none from Molly Olson, who goes hitless for the first time since Mar. 31, seeing her school record hitting streak come to an end at 28 after a two-hit day against Northwestern.
The Cougars would have needed to beat the Saints twice to claim the UMAC Tournament trophy, but now the Saints will move on to represent the UMAC in the NCAA DIII Softball Tournament, starting next weekend.
The only player to graduate this spring is Kelli Hamilton, who leaves after spending her four years on the diamond leading - without question - the most successful stretch in program history