UMD softball: finding ways to win
Last season, the UMD softball team had one of the greatest offensive seasons in the program's history. They led the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference (NSIC) in home runs (71) with the next closest hitting 51. They also led in slugging percentage and walks.
That is not this year's team, according to head coach Jen Walter. Following a 1-5 start at the Arkansas Tech Winter Invitational in Houston, TX, the Bulldogs have gone 18-7 including a 10-2 start in conference play.
“We’ve just evolved as a team,” Walter said. “[At the] beginning part of the year, we had lost some pretty good players, three All-Americans. We had a number of people playing in different positions and some new players. It took us a while to figure out who we are as a team and create our own identity, that just takes time.”
The question for this team is “how is this team going to win games?” This year they can’t just out-slug the other team, so they need to find creative ways to manufacture runs.
“We’re a team that has to pitch well,” Walter said. “We’ve got to make good plays defensively and right now we just need timely hitting. Our motto right now is score one more run than the other team. We’re just trying to figure out each game, and we understand that there’s not one of those areas that’s going to be dominant for us, it’s going to require all three for us to be successful.”
Currently, UMD sits two games behind Augustana and Winona State for tops in the NSIC and up three games over St. Cloud State. The Bulldogs traveled to Augustana earlier this year and were swept for the only two losses in conference play. Both Augustana and Winona State are top three in the conference on both hitting and pitching, both far and away the best pitching teams in the conference. Although there is a considerable gap between the teams, Walter feels that it is not something they can’t close.
“I don’t want to say we have to play perfect,” Walter said, “but we really have to nail not making little mistakes. That’s probably the biggest difference between us and them, they can make a few more mistakes than we can, so we have to dial it in. It’s not a gap that we can’t overcome.”
For any team anywhere, losing three All-Americans is nearly impossible to replace. Walter said that no one has taken upon themselves to take the mantle of the leader, but it’s been more of a group effort to keep confidence. There has been someone new every game that has stepped up in certain spots to deliver the big hit or defensive play.
“We can recognize better now if someone is not having a good day,” junior catcher Hannah Bloch said. “So other people will step up and give more effort to help those people out.”
Although they are looking up in the standings, Bloch believes that this team can beat anyone on any given night.
“We play harder when we play those teams that are ranked well,” Bloch said. “We know we can beat them if we play hard enough.”
The Bulldogs will be back home Saturday to take Minnesota-State Mankato, whom they swept in their only meeting last year.