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Gene's Blog: Under Tschida, Softball is never adrift

Gene's Blog: Under Tschida, Softball is never adrift

How do you top the Tommies' Women's Hockey vibe... where on the same day... senior goalie Kenzie Torpy gets her first postseason shutout in her 100th game... and moves her season record to 23-1-2... and 12-year Coach Tom Palkowski gets his 200th career victory... with a 4-0 playoff defeat of Gustavus... to continue a dream season for the nation's No. 1-ranked team?

How do you top the Tommies' MIAC indoor track and field team championship sweep for men and women... for the 20th consecutive year... with 57 different Purple athletes scoring points... in 41 of a possible 42 events... with 50 season-best performances... and having nine men's and women's performances now ranked on the top-15 national lists?

How do you top the Tommies' Women's Basketball success... a 26-1 record and No. 3 national ranking... an eighth consecutive MIAC playoff championship... extending a win streak over conference opponents to 74?

How do you top the Tommies' Men's and Women's Hoops consistency... as both made the NCAA playoffs... with conference regular-season title sweeps... and a combined 48-5 record... giving both programs a combined 45 NCAA tournament appearances, fifth most in Division III?

How do you top the Tommies' Men's and Women's Hoops shooting success... out of 1,000-plus NCAA institutions, the lone one to have both its men's and women's teams shooting both 50 percent or better from the field, and 38 percent or better from 3-point range?

How do you top the Tommies' winter sports run so far... with six regular-season and one playoff crown to date... bringing St. Thomas to a league-best 500 MIAC championships (430 regular season)... including 83 alone by Joe Sweeney-coached teams... and a 35-for-35 run in men's indoor track and field... and at least one team title in all 22 sports?

 

Nothing Soft About Softball

On a week with so much to celebrate, there's also the resilient Tommie Softball squad. The nation's No. 7-ranked team opened its 2019 season with four wins in 24 hours... and notably stood toe to toe with Mother Nature.

Coach John Tschida's team left campus on a cloudy Saturday for two games set for 65 miles away at the Rochester Dome. For 11 freshmen and one other newcomer, it was their first college games and initial road trip. The Purple expected to return home before midnight, then make another drive back to Rochester on Sunday for two more late afternoon games.

The Tommes arrived on site Saturday evening and cruised to wins over Buena Vista and No. 20-ranked UW-Oshkosh. Then the team's travel itinerary got blown away in a southern Minnesota blizzard.

By 10 p.m, the storm raged, winds whipped snow into whiteouts, and highways and roads were closing. Tschida and team members phoned more than one dozen hotels to secure a place to bunk. They eventually found a few rooms at two hotels, but not enough for their 35 players and five coaches. Fortunately, assistant coach Erica Wilson's hometown is Rochester, and her parents still live on the far edge of town. Erica, assistant Meg DuPuis and eight players were dropped off to sleep at the Wilson residence.

It was a bad sign that late night when Wilson's parents' vehicle got stuck on their drive home, then Erica's car got stuck while she was out trying to rescue her parents.

Conditions and roads worsened by Sunday morning. As Tschida planned for a 1 p.m. warmup session before a 2 p.m. game at the Rochester Dome, he discovered that the Wilson home was now isolated from any paved roads. His eight players and two coaches were a mile away from a road where the team bus could reach them.

In softball lingo, Tschida's teams occasionally leave the bases loaded, but they would never strand 10. 

So if the bus can't come to the players... the players just have to make it to the bus. With borrowed boots and scarves, and their softball gear in tow, the "Tundra 10" embarked on a one-mile walk, fighting sub-zero wind chill, and forging through snow drifts as high as waist deep at certain places.

"There's no way I was going to miss the game," said Jenna Beeso, a senior from Scottsdale, Ariz. "I've been around the snow and cold in my college days at St. Thomas, but I've never been hiking waist deep through snow like this. We just listened to music and marched along in a straight line. It's something we'll never forget."

Tschida can laugh now that by chance his team's Anchorage, Alaska native, Keaira Calderera, was not part of the Tundra 10. Yet his snow patrol included Beeso, his Arizonan, plus freshman Kendall Hopkins of Las Vegas, Nevada. Hopkins' only previous experience taking on a blizzard came at Dairy Queen. 

After their 45-minute trek, the Tundra 10 reached a road where they were picked up by the bus. Then it was off to the Rochester Dome for warmups. The Tommies' bus driver then circled back and picked up the UW-Stout softball team after its bus was stranded on the side of the road.

 

Walk-off Sunday

St. Thomas shut out Grinnell, 9-0, then needed a three-run comeback in its final at-bat to edge Carroll (Wis.), 6-4, to cap the unbeaten weekend.

The Tundra 10 was well represented in Sunday's games: Beeso had two doubles and four RBI in the first game; junior Elise Barnes went 5-for-8 on the day with four runs over the two Sunday games; and freshman pitcher Megan Baniecke threw four scoreless innings to get the mound win against Carroll.

In the first game, junior pitcher Kierstin Anderson-Glass threw a two-hit shutout. One day earlier, Anderson-Glass made her first game appearance in a Purple uniform in 1,003 days as she's battled through a long comeback from a 2016 concussion.

The Tommies had to scramble again Sunday night to find lodging, and Tschida suspects that they again got some of the last hotel rooms available. They got back on the road by mid-morning Monday, and returned to campus by noon. Can they make every road trip in 2019 so interesting?

Monday's dilemma was which St. Thomas athlete to nominate for National Player of the Week: senior Chase Shortly (four games, 12 RBI, 10 hits, .714 batting average, six doubles, one triple); senior Melissa Barry (11 hits, nine runs, .733 batting average, one double, one triple); Barnes (10 hits, .667 batting clip, five doubles, 10 runs, one walk); or Arizonan Jenna Beeso, the senior and captain of the Tundra 10.

As any wise softball coach will remind you, many times a walk is as good as a hit. Especially when that walk takes 45 minutes through snow drifts on game day, illustrating your team's toughness.

 

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Gene's Blog is a sports column penned by UST sports information director Gene McGivern. Gene is working his 25th season at St. Thomas and 31st overall in the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. He blogs periodically on various topics regarding the Tommies, the MIAC and Division III sports.

If you have comments or questions, e-mail Gene at ejmcgivern@stthomas.edu