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Big inning eliminates IWU softball from nationals

BY SCOTT HUNT - shunt@chronicle-tribune.com

Building an NAIA Softball World Series caliber team is a process, according to Indiana Wesleyan coach Steve Babinski, and his 13th-ranked Wildcats ran into a team just a little further higher on the ladder over the last two days.

Tenth-ranked Oregon Tech is that team and the Owls used a big second inning on Wednesday to eliminate IWU from the opening round of the NAIA national tourney with a 6-0 win and advance themselves to the World Series that starts on May 23 in Springfield, Missouri.

For the past two seasons the Wildcats had made that World Series trip and Babinski believes his team that featured just three seniors this season can earn its way back in the very near future.

“Sometimes teams need to go through a step-ladder process,” Babinski said, after sharing a long season ending chat with the Wildcats in right field on their home diamond. “I saw that five years ago the first time we made it to the opening round. We got no hit in our first game and then we lost the next one. Then the next year we made it to the championship day.

“The next year we were a four seed and we made it out of the bracket into the World Series. Last year we were a one seed and we made it back to the World Series,” he continued. “I see this team going through that progression again. These three seniors, they led well and did everything we asked. The core of this team next year will just be juniors and sophomores so we’re going to see that progression unfold I think quicker now. I’m looking for that ultimate stage next year.”

As for now though, its an Oregon Tech team with seven seniors and standout sophomore pitcher in Sarah Abramson that earned their first trip to the World Series since 2015. The Owls captured a NAIA national championship in 2011.

Abramson ran her season record to 25-5 after winning all three games in the circle during the Owls’ stay in Marion. She limited the Wildcats to just three singles - one each for freshman Miranda Wehrle, senior Victoria Boyer and sophomore Michaela Loveless - while striking out six and issuing three walks. Abramson pitched all 21 innings for top-seed Oregon Tech and finished with 26 strikeouts and eight walks while allowing 13 hits and just a single earned run.

“It all starts in the circle for us and Sarah Abramson has really stepped up for us at the right time in the playoffs,” said Oregon Tech’s 15th-year head coach Greg Stewart. “We’ve been playing solid defense all year long and even getting through a few injuries through the midseason ... This is senior led group, seven seniors that are all contributing, all doing things to help us win. As a coach you can’t say enough for when you’ve got the experience and you let the kids lead. You just go out there and watch them play.”

The Owls winning rally started with a leadoff single from freshman Maddie DeVerna in the bottom of the second, but the bulk of the damage was done with two outs. 

Wildcat sophomore starting pitcher Mckenzey Ridge got the first out on a sacrifice bunt and the second on a liner to second baseman Trinity Medina, but junior Baylee Wyscaver drilled a pinch-hit double to the fence in right center field to give Oregon Tech a 1-0 lead.  

Three consecutive singles, a walk and a two-run double by senior Sierra Barkis followed and Oregon Tech quickly had its 6-0 lead after sending 10 batters to the plate.

The Owls threatened to add even more runs by loading the bases against sophomore reliever Addie Benham in the third, but a hard grounder to sophomore Sydney Lowe at third turned into a 5-2 double play. Benham then got the third out on a comebacker to escape unscathed.

In all, Benham retired 11-straight Oregon Tech hitters to finish the game.

“There’s no way to look into a crystal ball to see what to do ... Mckenzey Ridge no hit them for the first three innings (on Tuesday) but we were planning on a tandem approach,” Babinski noted of his pitching strategy on Wednesday. “We just didn’t know when or how, but again, it didn’t matter. If we weren’t going to score a run it didn’t matter when we made the switch. I thought the (pitching) effort was phenomenal though.”

Abramson saw to it that the Wildcats wouldn’t score.

IWU put more balls in play than it did against Abramson on Tuesday, but it resulted in 12 pop or fly ball outs and three line drives that were tracked down by Oregon Tech outfielders to go with her six Ks.

“She’s got enough velocity so hitters have to make a decision early and get (their swing) going,” Stewart said of Abramson. “She gets a lot of good late movement, whether its in(side) or out. She’s worked so hard this year on just hitting spots and she’s doing a way better job with that. It’s pretty evident with the results were getting.” 

Indiana Wesleyan finished its season 44-15.