ANGOLA, Ind. – After four scoreless innings, the Trine University softball team put four on the board and then held off a late push by Concordia University Wisconsin to win the opening game of the Angola, Indiana Super Regional. The Thunder are now one win away from reaching the final site of the 2023 NCAA Division III Softball Championship.

The game was billed as a pitching duel, with two of the best staffs in the country facing off. The Thunder ended the regular season with the second best earned run average in the country with a 1.05 while the Falcons were ranked fourth with a 1.13.

Taking the circle for Trine was freshman Debbie Hill who boasts the 18th best ERA in the country at 1.06 while coming in at 14th with a 0.81 WHIP and sixth in walks per game with 0.77. Coming from the other side of the diamond was Concordia Wisconsin’s Gina Followell with the fifth best ERA (0.75), third best hits allowed per game (3.51), second best WHIP (0.65) and tenth best strikeouts per game (9.70).

The first nine batters of the game went down in order, until Hill came to the plate in the bottom of the second and recorded the first hit for either team. Senior Amanda Prather followed up with a single and then a sacrifice bunt put runners on second and third with one out. Followell posted two strikeouts to avoid any damage and end the inning.

“It took us awhile to get going, [Followell] is a very good pitcher,” said head coach Don Danklefsen, “We thought we could attack them by putting the ball in play and we eventually did that.”

Six straight more outs went by before the Falcons got their first hit of the game in the top of the fourth. They too followed up with a single to put a runner in scoring position with no outs. Hill recorded a pair of strikeouts before graduate student Carolyn Biel caught a confused runner at second after they tried to advance on a dropped third strike.

“Biel was great behind the plate for us today,” said Danklefsen, “She came through for us defensively in a huge way.”

The Thunder finally broke up the draw in the fifth inning. It looked like sophomore Ainsley Phillips would do it with one swing of the bat when she hit a ball to deep left field bouncing it off the top of the outfield fence. The play still ended with her standing on third base ready to scamper home when Cassie Woods hit a flyball to right field in the next at-bat.

The team continued the scoring in the bottom of the sixth. Prather led off the inning with her third hit of the day before giving way to junior Emersyn Haney who pinch ran. Haney moved to second on a hit-by-pitch against classmate Scarlett Elliott and both advanced on passed ball. With one out on the board, Danklefsen called for the squeeze and freshman Ashleigh Tranter executed the bunt perfectly not only scoring the run but reaching first safely.

Phillips then continued her heroics with another triple, this time bringing in a pair of runs and making the score 4-0 to head to the top of the seventh.

“Mostly I was just looking pitches I knew I could get ahold of and letting the balls go,” Phillips said to explain her success after the game, “She [Followell] tries to pitch around you and make you chase. I was focused on getting a pitch I liked.”

After Hill struck out the first batter of the seventh, the Falcons were down to two outs. Their next two batters reached on a single and then an error, before Gabbi Gaziano ended the Trine shutout with a single swing of the bat, more importantly pulling the team within one at 4-3.

The Thunder responded with a pitching change turning to junior Alexis Michon to finish out the contest. She quickly forced a pair of fly balls to the outfield to end the game and record her fifth save of the season.

Prather finished the game three-for-three while both Hill and Phillips finished two-for-three. Phillips led the way with two RBIs in the game. Hill finished her six and a third innings of pitching with the win and nine strikeouts.

“We really just had to trust our bats,” Prather said as explanation for the team’s mindset, “She’s a really good pitcher she’s going to get us a couple of times. We continued to go up there with confidence and trust in each other to pass the bat along.”

“I was really proud of the bottom of our lineup today. They really carried us to a crucial game one victory,” continued Danklefsen, “Now we get some rest and come back tomorrow with a one-and-done mindset.”

The Thunder improve to 39-4 overall while the Falcons fall to 40-4 following the result. The two team’s will faceoff again tomorrow, Saturday, May 27 at 1 p.m. with Concordia Wisconsin serving as the home team on the scoreboard. Trine will end the series with a win, but should they lose to start the day a second decisive game would be played after the first.