With its championship win, Wildcat Softball secures an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, marking the first back-to-back appearances by any team in the national tournament in St. Kate's history.
All season long, the St. Catherine University softball team has argued that it's the best team in the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC). On Sunday, the Wildcats proved it with maybe the biggest and best team win in program history, as they defeated the Hamline University Pipers 6-2 to win the MIAC Playoff Championship for the first time in history.
Last season, St. Kate's came oh so close to beating the top-seeded University of St. Thomas in the MIAC Championship series, as it came within a game of winning the conference tournament. This year, a game seven wasn't necessary, as the Wildcats beat Hamline and St. Thomas in their first two games of the tournament and needed to beat the Pipers just once to win the championship and earn the conference's automatic bid.
The road to that win wasn't easy. Hamline outhit the Wildcats 8-6 in seven innings of play and stranded 11 runners on base. However, Krista Flugstad '18 and the Wildcat defense worked as a team to keep the Pipers off the board, while the offense went to work to give the junior ace a lead. In the bottom of the first inning, St. Kate's took advantage of two Hamline errors, as Anna Hinderaker '19 scored on a pop up blooper by Kylie Macziewski '18 to give the Wildcats an early 1-0 lead. That lead was quickly extended to 3-0 as sophomore third baseman Jenna George '19 hit a line drive home run over the left field fence, her 11th of the season.
The Pipers answered by scoring an unearned run in the second inning, cutting the lead to 3-1. Abbie Annen scored from second on a Casey Anderson single to put a runner on with no outs, but Flugstad sent the next three batters down in order, breaking St. Kate's school record for career strikeouts in the process.
The Wildcats extended the lead to 4-1 in the third, as Macziewski scored on a RBI single from Amber Montero '20. Like in the second inning, though, Hamline once again threatened in the top of the fourth and eventually scored to cut the lead to 4-2. After Kira Krueger scored, the Pipers threatened to continue scoring, as they loaded the bases with two outs. Flugstad, though, was gold under pressure, getting designated player Aubree Douglas to strike out swinging to end the inning.
The 4-2 score held until the bottom of the sixth, when St. Kate's managed to score two more runs to give Flugstad and the defense a 6-2 cushion. George led off the inning with a single up the middle, allowing the Wildcats to load the bases, thanks to a throwing error on a Flugstad bunt and a walk by Ashley Sis '18. Sammie Galvez '19 made it hurt with a double over the right fielder's head, scoring both George and pinch runner Miranda Mader '20 to give St. Kate's the 6-2 lead.
Hamline, naturally, made things interesting the top of the seventh with back-to-back hits to open the inning. Flugstad got Annen to fly out to left before getting the next two batters to ground out to the pitcher, securing the 6-2 win and the MIAC Playoff Championship. The junior ace earned her 23rd win of the 2017 season, and, in the process, broke St. Kate's school record for career strikeouts, passing Ana Fernandez with 439 total.
With the win, the Wildcats overall record improves to 32-11, as they win the first MIAC Championship in program history. St. Kate's also earns the MIAC's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, marking the first back-to-back appearances by any team in the national tournament in St. Kate's history.
The Wildcats will discover their fate at noon Monday during the NCAA selection show. Fans interested in watching can tune in via the NCAA website. More information will be available Monday afternoon.