by MITCHELL BRUER
From The Winonan, WSU’s student newspaper
Winona State University’s softball team swept all four games during its home opening stretch on Friday, April 5, against Southwest Minnesota State University and on Saturday, April 6, against University of Sioux Falls. With these wins, the team was able to improve its season record to 27-5.
Sophomore Elizabeth Pautz was more than ecstatic about her first home opening weekend with the Warriors. “I can’t wait, personally, as this is my first home series in my career here at Winona State. I can’t wait to see who all shows up to watch us take on two of our conference opponents,” she said.
Before Pautz was a Warrior, she spent her first year at University of Wisconsin - Green Bay (UWGB). Despite her change, she said she feels as if she fits right in with the Warriors.
“I feel successful this season so far in comparison to my season last year at UWGB, but there’s always room for improvement. My team and coaches are the reason why I’m able to stay relaxed and just throw my game,” Pautz said.
The Warriors have demonstrated on and off the field they are a close-knit group of girls.
“The team is like one big family. We all have so much fun playing together and are able to keep each other motivated no matter what happens. Communication is key to our defense and offense, and our spirits are up and as strong as ever at this point in the season,” Pautz said.
Games one and two on Friday were quick shut-out games, with a 9-1 win the first, followed by a 6-0 shutout, courtesy of junior Jordyn Kleman, junior Alyssa Van Valey and Pautz.
Kleman struck out nine batters in game one, while Pautz only allowed two walks and three hits, striking out seven more batters in game two. Van Valey finished off game two to earn the Warriors their ninth shutout of the year.
Junior Alison Nowak gave Southwest Minnesota State University a run for their money on Friday, as she went six for seven with her at bats. Although a bit skeptical, she was willing to share her secret to success with the world.
“Breakfast brownies. They are the key to success,” Nowak said.
After such a successful night finally on home turf, the Warriors charged into Saturday with renewed energy. Junior Katie Kolb was excited to finally be playing home games, as all of the season has been spent traveling. “I think we need some homes games. It’s hard playing on the road, missing class, and just being in an environment you aren’t familiar with. It will be nice to play at home and have our fan base out cheering us on,” said Kolb.
There was no shortage of fans as Saturday rolled around — they filled the bleachers and lined the fences with bag chairs and blankets.
“Our offense has really been the spark for the past couple of games. Ali Nowak alone is on fire. She comes up in clutch situations and just knows how to get the job done. Our pitching and defense has allowed the component to very few runs, which helps the cause, as well,” Kolb explained.
Kleman started on the mound for game one on Saturday, immediately striking out the first batter up at the plate. The other two outs of the inning came from back-to-back outs, one out on first, the other a catch in the outfield. Kleman allowed two hits in the top from the Cougars.
Senior Lani Van Zyl also lit up the field with incredible amounts of chatter or making sure she would call a pop fly specifically with her catch phrase, “I go, I go, I go!” which echoed across the field many times on Saturday.
Kolb started the bat off right with a line drive down center, which was missed by the short stop, allowing her to make it to first base. Kerkman gave another line drive to the short stop, but was thrown out at first, giving Kolb an RBI. Van Zyl battled at the plate with many fouls but managed to get a walk after a battle with a full count.
Nowak drove a grounder into the outfield to advance Van Zyl and Kolb. Then, junior Alexis Kelsey nailed a grounder to second, getting Nowak tagged out on two. The end of the inning had Van Zyl getting trapped in a hotbox situation between the catcher and the third baseman while trying to steal home. Despite a valiant effort, Van Zyl was tagged out to end the first inning. One run was brought in for the Warriors.
The second inning brought better at bats, with Smolenski returning to the plate after Van Zyl got tagged out mid at bat. Right away she nailed a ball straight to center field, hitting the fence and allowing her to score a double. Soon after, sophomore Rylee Stout ripped a ball down the third base line, sending Smolenski home and putting Stout on second. Sophomore Jen Giesey then popped a ball to right off a full count, which was dropped, and earned her a double — sending Smolenski home. Next, sophomore Carly Kordich got out on first but managed to advance Giesey to third. Kolb then knocked a pop fly to center field, bringing Giesey home to bring in three runs for the Warriors in inning two.
After the inning, bats plateaued for the Warriors. The Cougars managed to catch up by scoring three more runs in the third, fourth, and fifth inning, but it was not enough to catch up. Kleman managed to hold the Cougars enough to bring in their 11th consecutive win.
Game two was a constant battle, as bats were few and far between. There were many shut-out or back-to-back out innings, making it a bit of a struggle for the Warriors to bring in runs. Nowak managed to round home base in the bottom of the second, and Giesey brought in a run in the bottom of the sixth.
The biggest event of game two came when Pautz was removed from the mound in the top of the seventh to be replaced by Van Valey, who then was pulled after one batter and replaced by Kleman. Kleman struck out the last batter swinging.
This weekend brought the Warriors up 12-0 in conference on a 12-game winning streak with an overall record of 27-5 for the season.
Winona State will play again on Saturday, April 13, at 12 and 2 p.m. against the University of Minnesota Crookston in Crookston, Minn., and on Sunday, April 14, at 12 and 2 p.m. against Bemidji State University in Bemidji, Minn.