Tuesday’s morning contest between the No. 1 Oregon Tech Owls and the No. 2 Indiana Wesleyan University Wildcats was a battle between two incredibly even-matched teams.
Both squads feature strong pitching. They both have lineups from top to bottom that can hit, get on base, and drive in runs. Along with that, they are both excellent in the field, rarely making mistakes during the completion of routine plays.
But an efficient offensive performance by the Owls, combined with a stellar outing from Sarah Abramson on the mound, proved to be the difference, as Oregon Tech defeated IWU, 4-1, on the second day of the NAIA National Tournament Opening Round.
The Owls had at least one hit in all but one inning, finishing with 12 overall. Though none were for extra-bases, the Oregon Tech batters found success driving balls into gaps and into areas where the IWU defense could not reach in time to make a play.
“They had a better approach,” IWU Head Coach Steve Babinski said. “They swung and got a lot of base hits. Hitting is contagious.”
Meanwhile, the Wildcats were a little more aggressive, taking a lot of swings early in the count. But after they fell behind, the Wildcats struggled to generate much offense.
“Our strategy was sound,” Babinski said. “We just often were sitting in the count with two strikes without swinging. [Oregon Tech] had a couple of hitters…they fouled it off, fouled it off, fouled it off…and then before you know, they [recorded] a base hit. I want to see more of that.”
After a quick first two innings, in which both Abramson and Wildcats’ starting pitcher McKenzey Ridge allowed a combined two hits, the Owls were finally able to break the scoreless tie in the third. Jacey Conklin led off the frame with a single, and with two outs, McKenna Armantrout and Ali Graham hit back-to-back RBI singles to give Oregon Tech a 2-0 lead.
The Wildcats had their chances in the third and fourth innings, putting two runners on base in both frames, but Abramson was able to escape both jams.
Oregon Tech made the Wildcats pay for not taking advantage of their scoring opportunities, plating two more runs in the bottom of the fifth to increase their advantage to four. Graham, Sotelo, and Cierra Burkus hit three consecutive base single to score the first run, and Maddie DeVerna drove in the second run later in the inning.
The Wildcats avoided the shutout bid in the sixth, as Mackenzie Brown’s triple drove in Miranda Wehrle for IWU’s only run of the contest, but they were unable to get any closer.
Abramson pitched a complete game, four-hit shutout, striking out 10 batters while walking only three.
Graham finished with three of Oregon Tech’s 12 hits, while Sotelo and DeVerna each had two.
For the Wildcats, Ridge took the loss, giving up six hits and two earned runs while striking out one in three innings. Addie Benham gave up five hits and two runs in her two innings of work, while Hannah Miller allowed just one hit in the sixth.
Of IWU’s four hits, Brown finished with two, while Wehrle and Victoria Boyer came away with the other two.
While it was a tough loss, and one that put them on the brink of elimination, Babinski and the Wildcats are not thinking about that.
This is a team that has won a number of big games over the years because they have relied on one another. And that is what is going to carry them through the rest of the tournament.
“We had a really good talk, and I think you are going to see a little bit more aggressive of a Wildcat team,” Babinski said. “[We told them] to play fearless and play with conviction. Our philosophy is [that] you’re not playing for yourself ever. You’re playing for God and each other, and by doing that, even if you’re not seeing the ball well, you know that it’s not about you. It’s for them.”