By Colin Marklowitz
Despite being picked to finish in the middle of the WIAC pack this season, the University of Wisconsin–Stout softball team concluded the program’s best season since 2005 with a third place finish in last weekend’s WIAC Softball Championship.
The Blue Devils ended the regular season with a stellar 12-1 WIAC record that includes 10 straight wins against WIAC opponents to close out the year. These accomplishments earned them the right to host the conference tournament at Alumni Field in Menomonie on May 2, 3 and 4. After going undefeated through their first two games of the double elimination tournament, the Blue Devils lost a pair of heartbreakers on Saturday night and Sunday morning to get bounced from the tournament. UW–Stout lost 3-2 in nine innings to the eventual champion University of Wisconsin–Whitewater on May 3 on a walk-off home run before dropping a 3-0 decision to University of Wisconsin–La Crosse the following morning. UW–Stout finished the season with a record of 27-12.
Even with the disappointing end to the season, the Blue Devils can still be proud of how great their run was, especially at the end of the year.
With star pitcher Tori Workman, a sophomore from Prior Lake, Minn., and a balanced lineup featuring senior standouts Jessica Behnke of Bruce, Wis., Sam Hastings of Waukesha, Wis. and Hannah Sweet of Elk River, Minn. leading the way, the Blue Devils rolled into the conference tournament on a 12-game winning streak. Workman, who is a front-runner for WIAC pitcher of the year, went 20-8 with a 1.63 ERA in 176.1 innings pitched. She also set the UW–Stout single-season record for strikeouts, mowing down 160 batters and setting the record against the last batter she faced this year. Workman was named the WIAC player of the week on four separate occasions, and her 20 wins was the most in the conference. Not just a pitcher, Workman was also one of the team’s better hitters, batting .303 with five doubles and 13 RBIs this year.
Hastings has been one of the Blue Devil’s best players during her four years at UW–Stout and finished with a .357 batting average while hitting four home runs. She also stole nine bases, tops on the team.
Behnke, who is one of the best defensive third baseman in the WIAC, closed out her senior campaign by starting 39 of 39 games; she is one of only two players on the team to do so this season.
Sweet capped off a very successful senior year with a .297 batting average and 20 RBIs, second on the team. She also committed just two errors all season in 214 chances for a .991 fielding percentage, tied with Hasting for best on the team. The Blue Devils also benefited from a host of talented underclassmen.
With just three seniors on the roster, UW–Stout got a huge boost from their group of sophomores, including Workman, Kaitlin Stark from Hastings, Minn., Nicole Rogers of Brooklyn Center, Minn. and Kari Kolle of Eau Claire, Wis. Stark hit .353 this year while batting in the leadoff spot. She had a team-high 47 hits and 12 doubles while tying for the team lead in home runs with four. Rogers, the Blue Devils centerfielder, batted .286 with a team-leading 21 RBIs and three triples. Kolle started all 39 games at second base and turned in a very solid .975 fielding percentage, the third-best on the team.
Juniors Lynzi Knudtson, the team’s shortstop from Melrose, Wis., and Taylor Workman, the designated player of Prior Lake, Minn., were also big factors in the Blue Devils’ success this year. Knudtson batted .353 while leading the Blue Devils in sacrifice hits with 19, which was also third in all of NCAA Division III. Workman drove in 20 runs while batting .333 as the team’s cleanup hitter. She also blasted three home runs, which is third on the team.
Freshmen players Liz Seipel of Nekoosa, Wis., Heather Bol from Bruce, Wis., and Caty Schloer from Lino Lakes, Minn., also ended up playing key roles for UW–Stout this season. Seipel started 13, played in 25 games and batted .400 in 35 at-bats on the year. Bol was one of the Blue Devils best hitters off the bench, playing in 31 games with 12 starts while hitting .340 with six runs scored and seven RBIs. With so many young and talented players, the Blue Devils are primed for another run next season.
With just three players graduating, UW–Stout will return the team’s top four pitchers and six of their top nine batters, making them one of the favorites to come away with a WIAC championship next spring. Congratulations to seniors Sam Hastings, Jessica Behnke and Hannah Sweet on an amazing final season and for all your successes on the field!