EC Softball Drops NCAA Tourney Opener to Wisconsin-Whitewater

Photo courtesy of Blake Baxter.
Photo courtesy of Blake Baxter.

WHITEWATER, Wis. – The Eureka softball team's nine-game winning streak came to a halt in the NCAA Tournament Regional Round on Friday.

Playing on its home field, top-seeded Wisconsin-Whitewater limited the Red Devils to just one hit in a 10-0 tourney opener that ended after five innings, and only lasted one hour and seven minutes.

The Red Devils (27-7), who made their first NCAA Division III Tournament appearance since 2002 and second in program history, will look to bounce back against Coe (32-9) on Saturday at 1:30 p.m. The Kohawks dropped a 3-1 opener to Carthage before EC took the field at van Steenderen Softball Complex for the first time.

After the game, EC coach Debi Neff said she felt like nerves were a factor.

"We haven't been on this kind of stage," she said. "It was a little hard for, I think, all of our team to adjust, and once we started adjusting a little bit, it was just too late.

"Unfortunately, our bats didn't hit today like we thought they might have, but got to give credit to their pitcher, because she did a nice job of keeping us off balance and hitting her spots."

Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Pitcher of the Year Bella Matthias turned in a one-hit shutout in five innings while striking out six and only walking one batter.

EC freshman Raelyn Payne (Lexington, Ill./Lexington) produced the maroon and gold's lone hit in the fourth inning, whacking a hard single to center field. She moved to second on a wild pitch, but was left stranded after Mathias got Morgan Osborn (Washington, Ill./Washington) to ground out and caught Morgan Ledbetter (Hanna City, Ill./Elmwood) looking to get out of the inning.

Adrianna Zeman (Peru, Ill./La Salle-Peru) drew a walk with one out and advanced to second on a Faith Bachtold (Fairbury, Ill./Prairie Central) grounder in the fifth, but the Red Devils couldn't get anything to materialize after that.

"I'd say it was all about making adjustments at the plate," Payne said. "Like (Coach) Neff said, this was one of the best pitchers we've faced all season, so it was a little hard jumping into that our first round, but I thought we did a lot better in our second time around at the plate."

The Warhawks, who made their 22nd NCAA Tournament appearance, posted 10 runs on nine hits and two untimely EC errors. Kayla Seymor, Meg Cohrs and Molly Ethington all collected two hits apiece.

Seymour and Caitlin Catino both hit home runs. Seymor knocked a two-run shot over the center-field fence in the second to make it 4-0, and Catino delivered a grand slam during a fourth-inning rally that featured six unearned runs.

In four innings in the circle, EC right-hander Erin Smith (Dunlap, Ill./Dunlap) conceded four earned runs on nine hits and two walks.

"Their lineup is just very solid up and down," Smith said. "They had solid hits up and down the lineup, and we just couldn't quite pull through with that today like we normally do, but I think (if) we keep our energy up and adjust early tomorrow, we'll do a little better."

Friday marked EC's first loss since April 20, and only the second time the Red Devils have been shut out this season.

"We haven't been in this situation for a while," Neff said. "I don't have any doubts that this group will come back. They're fighters. They love the game and hate to lose, so they'll get over it and be ready to play tomorrow."