MARSHALL - The Marshall softball team has proven to be much improved this season, getting off to a 10-5 start, but Monday the Tigers found they still have some work to do to compete with the top of the class.
Defending Class AA champion New Ulm came to the Marshall Softball Complex and soundly handed the Tigers a 20-4 defeat, piling up 16 hits while making aggressive moves on the base paths.
The Eagles didn't need any free passes, but they were walked nine times and had four batters hit by a pitch against the combined efforts of Marshall hurlers Callie Graff and Miranda Fischer. Graff and Fischer walked just two batters in three games at a tournament Saturday in Pipestone, but they had a hard time finding the zone Monday and the Eagles made them pay.
Marshall senior second baseman Amy Welu, left, catches a throw from catcher Sadie Zahrbock as New Ulm's Rachel Strandmark successfully steals second base during Monday's non-conference softball game at the Marshall Softball Complex.
"We walked a few batters and got into some situations that we didn't want to be in," Marshall head coach Jack Houseman said. "They're a good team and they're going to take advantage of those opportunities, so you need to play a pretty solid game, mistake-wise, and we just had a few too many mistakes and left some pitches for them to hit, and that's ballgame."
The third-ranked Eagles (13-2 overall) made their presence felt immediately, batting around and tagging Marshall for five runs in top of the first inning against Graff. New Ulm had four hits, drew two walks and had a batter hit by a pitch in the inning.
Once getting on base, New Ulm's runners tested the Tigers' defense by swiping bases whenever possible. Even after walks, there were multiple occasions during the game when a New Ulm batter would take her base and turn the corner to steal second without a play from the pitcher. New Ulm's Rachel Standmark had three steals in the first two innings alone.
New Ulm 520 014 8-20 16 0
Marshall 000 400 0-4 5 1
NU-Sydney Schuck, Hannah Backer (4), Brittany Denn (5). M-Callie Graff, Miranda Fischer (4). WP-Denn. LP-Graff. 2B: NU-Katie Forst, Denn, Briana Sieve. HR: M-Brooke Louwagie.
Eagles' starting pitcher Sydney Schuck cruised through the first three innings against a Marshall lineup that had been hitting the ball well this season. She had six strikeouts and faced 11 batters while shutting down the Tigers over three innings.
A pitching change was made in the fourth inning with New Ulm up 7-0 and the Tigers showed signs of life against reliever Hannah Backer. Brooke Louwagie started the inning by crushing a solo shot to left-center field and three of the next four batters drew walks. With two outs and the bases loaded, Tori Arzdorf pinch hit at the No. 9 spot in the order and came up with a big three-run single but was thrown out trying to stretch it to a double.
Houseman was pleased to see his squad refuse to go away quietly against a top-tier opponent.
"Brooke got us going and everybody got a little more relaxed and comfortable and feeling like We can do this,'" Houseman said. "We got some confidence and put together a nice inning, but we have to go back out there and play mistake-free defense and do our job on the pitcher's plate. We're still getting better each day."
With their lead chopped in half, the Eagles reasserted themselves offensively in the final three innings. They scored one run in the fifth, four in the sixth and eight in the seventh to create the lopsided final score. Brittany Denn pitched the final three innings for New Ulm and retired nine straight Marshall batters. In all, the Tigers struck out 13 times in the game.
Marshall, which won seven of eight games last week, saw its momentum stopped cold Monday, but Houseman said he hopes his players use the loss as a learning experience going forward.
"They have to understand that they can't let that third strike go by," Houseman said. "You have to be ready (in the batter's box). When you're facing pitchers that can bring the heat like today, what we're asking them to do is throw their hands at the ball and get it onto the green. It just reinforces what we've been saying and helps out with that."
"The team's still with us and we're going to restart our season tomorrow at Tracy."
The Tigers play Tracy-Milroy-Balaton tonight at approximately 7 p.m. in Tracy after the Panthers finish a doubleheader against Renville County West.