TUCSON, Ariz. – By the time the Concordia University softball team completed action at approximately 4:30 p.m. local time in Arizona on Tuesday (March 6), it had played five games in a stretch of just over 24 hours. During that time in the desert, the Bulldogs claimed wins over Northwest University (Wash.), Roosevelt University (Ill.) and William Penn University (Iowa). They also suffered defeats at the hands of Aquinas College (Mich.) and 11th-ranked University of St. Francis (Ill.).
Tucson Invite Results (March 5-6)
March 5 vs. Aquinas – L, 5-7
March 5 vs. Northwest – W, 7-6
March 6 vs. St. Francis – L, 1-3
March 6 vs. Roosevelt – W, 4-2
March 6 vs. William Penn – W, 4-3
Fifth-year head coach Todd LaVelle’s squad is 3-2 on the trip and 5-6 overall this season. Concordia is scheduled to play five more times before leaving Arizona.
The only loss on Tuesday actually provided encouragement. Freshman pitcher Grace Bernhardt threw all six innings and kept her team right in it against the nationally-ranked Fighting Saints. Concordia even put the potential game-tying run in scoring position in the top of the seventh as part of a rally spurred by Kenna Heath’s pinch hit RBI single.
“I thought we battled really well. We played great defense,” LaVelle said. “That was Grace’s best outing so far in a Bulldog uniform. You always want an opportunity to win at the end and we had a chance with runners at second and third and two outs. We didn’t get it done, but I was really proud of how the girls battled during that game.”
Throughout most of the early season, the top four in the lineup have been on a tear. LaVelle appears to have a fearsome foursome in Leah Kalkwarf, Tori Homolka, Hhana Haro and Elanna Osthoff. The latter three are all new to the Bulldogs this season. Osthoff enjoyed a 4-for-4 performance in Monday’s game against Aquinas and then added a double and a steal of home that seemed to spark the team in the victory over William Penn. Said LaVelle of Osthoff’s run in Arizona, “It’s just amazing how she’s hit.”
Osthoff and company had to come back from a 3-0 deficit early on against William Penn. In that contest, Tucson native Brittany Woolridge made her first career start in the circle. The Bulldogs waited to get on the board until the bottom of the sixth when Homolka’s triple sparked a four-run rally. Haro followed with an RBI double. After Osthoff stole home, Tricia Tripp walked and rounded the bases on Dalaney Nance’s double. Some sloppiness on the part of the Statesmen actually allowed Nance to score on the play, allowing Concordia to grab a 4-3 lead.
The Bulldogs needed the heroics of Homolka in Monday’s 7-6 win over Northwest. She delivered a three-run homer in the top of the sixth to turn a 4-3 deficit into a 6-4 advantage. An inning earlier, Homolka had doubled and scored on a Haro two-bagger. Kalkwarf, along for the ride on Homolka’s blast, notched two hits in both of Monday’s contests. In the victory over Northwest, Baily Clear battled through all seven innings in the circle while earning the win.
The Concordia lineup has shown plenty of potential for explosiveness. Now it’s up to its pitching and defense to make a leap forward. Tuesday was a positive step. Its three opponents combined for only eight runs.
“Our defense is shoring up pretty nice,” LaVelle said. “And our pitching staff has kind of settled down. Baily Clear got the win against Roosevelt and each girl pitched well today. That’s nice to see. I think we’re ready to break out at any time. We’re seeing a lot of the other teams’ best pitchers. We’ll embrace it and keep getting better.”
The Bulldogs will have Wednesday off before picking back up on Thursday with three more games. The slate includes Roosevelt at 9 a.m. MT / 10 a.m. CT, Madonna College (Mich.) at 1:30 p.m. MT / 2:30 p.m. CT and Saint Xavier University (Ill.) at 3:30 p.m. MT / 4:30 p.m. CT.