The UW-Oshkosh softball team clinched the fifth and final spot in the WIAC Championship field with a pair of victories at UW-River Falls during the league finale Sunday (April 28).
UW-Oshkosh (21-15, 7-7 WIAC) held on to win the opener, 5-4, before defeating the Falcons by a 9-1 score in five innings during the second contest behind three-run homers from Acacia Tupa and Sidney Budzinski. Tupa, who has hit home runs in three of the Titans' last four games, finished 5-for-6 at the plate Sunday with a double, a homer, a walk, four runs scored, five runs batted in and a stolen base.
The fifth-seeded Titans will face fourth-seeded UW-La Crosse (20-16, 8-6 WIAC) in the first round of the conference tournament at 10 a.m. Friday (May 3) in Whitewater. UW-Oshkosh, which reached 20 wins for the 16th consecutive season, secured the fifth seed by virtue of its doubleheader sweep over UW-Stout (18-17, 7-7 WIAC) on April 13 in Whitewater.
UW-Whitewater (26-10, 11-3 WIAC) will host the league tournament for the third straight year. The top-seeded Warhawks, who earned a first-round bye at the WIAC Championship, will also welcome second-seeded UW-Eau Claire (23-8-1, 9-3-1 WIAC) and third-seeded UW-Platteville (18-18, 8-6) to Whitewater for the three-day, double-elimination tournament.
In Sunday's first game, UW-Oshkosh never trailed after scoring twice in the top of the third inning. UW-River Falls cut its deficit to 3-2 after the fifth inning and 5-4 in the seventh, but the Titans turned a double play to end the game.
UW-Oshkosh opened the scoring on an RBI single from Claire Petrus with one out in the third inning. Abby Menting followed with an infield single, and UW-River Falls shortstop Kaia Dorn's resulting throw was off the mark, allowing Tupa to score from third base.
UW-Oshkosh starting pitcher Bailey Smaney set down seven consecutive batters until issuing a leadoff walk in the bottom of the fourth inning. A two-out double put two Falcon baserunners in scoring position, but Smaney preserved the 3-0 lead by inducing an infield popup.
The Falcons then loaded the bases with two outs in the fifth inning for Tayler Fall, who hit a two-run single to end Smaney's bid for her sixth shutout of the year and pull UW-River Falls within 3-2.
UW-Oshkosh responded with two runs on three hits during the sixth inning to extend its lead to 5-2. Amanda McIlhany singled to lead off the inning and came around to score on Tupa's two-out double to center field. Petrus followed with a sharp single to left field that scored Tupa.
UW-River Falls (8-24, 2-12 WIAC) cut its deficit to 5-3 during the sixth frame on a one-out, run-scoring infield single by Allison Kondzela that concluded Smaney's outing. Petrus then entered the UW-Oshkosh pitching circle and retired the first two batters she faced, stranding a pair of runners in scoring position with an inning-ending foul-out to Titans first baseman Kaitlyn Krol.
After UW-Oshkosh left two runners on base during the top of the seventh inning, Hannah Theobald drew a walk to lead off the bottom of the frame. A Fall single put runners at the corners with no outs, and a sacrifice fly from Lexi Dupee pulled the Falcons within a run. However, Petrus induced a game-ending double play off the bat of Nicole Senour as second baseman McIlhany fielded the grounder and flipped to shortstop Natalie Dudek, who stepped across second base and fired the ball to Krol just in time to nab Senour.
The double play was the Titans' first of two on the day. UW-Oshkosh, which was not charged with an error Sunday, leads the WIAC with 12 double plays turned this season.
Tupa went 3-for-4 with a double, two runs, two RBIs and a stolen base to lead the Titans. The stolen base was Tupa's team-leading seventh of the season.
Menting and Petrus both added two of UW-Oshkosh's eight hits. Petrus drove in two runs, giving her a team-leading 27 RBIs on the year.
Smaney (13-7) picked up the win after allowing three runs and scattering nine hits and a pair of walks with one strikeout across the first 5.1 innings. Smaney now leads the WIAC in victories, innings pitched (119.1), complete games (14) and shutouts (5).
Petrus recorded the team's first save of the year, holding the Falcons to one run on one hit and one walk during the final 1.2 innings. Petrus' sixth career save ties Courtney Wautier for third most in UW-Oshkosh history.
Fall, Kondzela, Senour and Molly Kaspar each had two of the Falcons' 10 hits. Theobald, the conference leader with a .491 on-base percentage entering the day, singled and walked three times in four plate appearances during the opener.
UW-River Falls starting pitcher Payton Speckel (1-13) suffered the complete-game loss, surrendering five runs (four earned) on eight hits and six walks with four strikeouts.
During the second contest, UW-Oshkosh clinched a berth into the WIAC Championship with eight runs over the final two innings to invoke the eight-run rule.
Both teams scored a run in the first inning as Krol produced a run-scoring groundout during the top of the frame before Dupee tied the score with an RBI double in the home half. Dupee finished the game 2-for-2 with a pair of doubles.
Petrus and her starting pitcher counterpart from UW-River Falls, Hannah Stegeman, held the game at a 1-1 tie until the Titans exploded for five runs on just two hits in the top of the fourth inning. The Falcons had a chance to take their first lead of the day when, with two outs and a runner at first base, Fall drove a flyball that appeared to be headed to the wall in right-center field until UW-Oshkosh right fielder Chloe Lambie made a spectacular backhanded diving catch to end the inning.
Krol was hit by a pitch to lead off the fateful fourth inning and advanced to second base on Dudek's sacrifice bunt. McIlhany followed with a single and Budzinski reached on an error to load the bases with one out. Pinch-hitter Kailee Garstecki worked a full count before lifting the eventual game-winning sacrifice fly to left field that was just deep enough to allow a sliding Krol to evade the tag at the plate for a 2-1 UW-Oshkosh lead. The Titan rally continued as Katie Fontanetta reached on an error that let McIlhany score from third base. With runners at second and third bases, Tupa drove an 0-2 pitch for a three-run homer that extended the Titans' lead to 6-1.
Petrus stranded a pair of UW-River Falls baserunners in the bottom of the fourth inning, and the Titans put the game away in the top of the fifth frame. Menting walked to lead off the decisive inning and went to second base on Dudek's one-out single. After a popup for the second out, Budzinski crushed her first collegiate home run well beyond the center field wall to put the Titans up by eight runs.
Smaney relieved Petrus for the bottom of the fifth inning and retired the Falcons in order, including one via a strikeout, to complete the conference tournament berth-clinching win.
Tupa went 2-for-2 for UW-Oshkosh with her fourth home run of the season, a walk, two runs and three RBIs.
Petrus improved her season record to 8-8 by holding the Falcons to one run on five hits and one walk across the first four innings.
Stegeman (2-8) was charged with the loss, allowing six runs (one earned) on four hits in four innings. She walked one batter and struck out two.
The Titans have won seven of their last eight meetings with the Falcons. UW-River Falls has not won a home game against UW-Oshkosh since 2011.
UW-Oshkosh and UW-Eau Claire are the only WIAC programs to win at least 20 games each of the last 16 years.
The Titans conclude the regular season with a doubleheader at Marian University on Tuesday (April 30).
Photo by Steve Frommell