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The Saints’ Tiff Hudack hits during the first inning of Sunday’s game. Hudack drove in two of the nine runs the Saints scored in the inning. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)
The Saints’ Tiff Hudack hits during the first inning of Sunday’s game. Hudack drove in two of the nine runs the Saints scored in the inning. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)

College softball: Saints power way to NCAA regional

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sports Duluth, 55802

Duluth Minnesota 424 W. First St. 55802

While Upper Midwest Athletic Conference opponents haven’t provided the toughest competition for St. Scholastica’s softball team this season, the most interesting battle has come internally in determining who will lead the Saints in home runs.

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Rendi Johnson hit a two-run homer in Sunday’s 16-1, five-inning rout of Northland College in the UMAC tournament championship game at Kenwood Field, tying the sophomore for the team lead with six and extending the Saints’ team record to 37 this season.

“We have a solid lineup, one through nine,” said Johnson, who was 2-for-3 and also doubled in two runs during a nine-run first inning. “Everyone on this team can hit a home run. Not a lot of teams have all power. A lot of teams have a short game, and that’s not our strategy. Our strategy is to hit with power.”

Johnson tied Kara Warren for the team lead in home runs, while Nikki Logergren, Tiff Hudack, Kasandra McCabe and Molly Jazdzewski each are one back with five. That race will be decided this weekend when St. Scholastica (27-10) heads to its fourth NCAA Division III tournament. The Saints, currently on a team-record 21-game winning streak, will find out which four-team regional they will head to during this morning’s selection show on NCAA.com.

No matter the foes, those teams will have to be careful when pitching to the 12-time UMAC champions.

“You can’t pitch around anybody,” Saints coach Jen Walter said. “Our one through six hitters all have five or more home runs and we have a couple kids on the bench who can hit them. Offensively, we have a lot of weapons.

“We’re so much more disciplined at the plate, we’re going deeper in the counts. We’re swinging at our pitches and not swinging at strikes. That’s the reason why we’re hitting the ball as well as we have.”

That was evident during the first inning Sunday as nine consecutive players reached base with two outs against Northland pitcher Jayna Loy, last season’s UMAC player of the year. Loy contributed to the big inning with four walks, including one with the bases loaded.

“It was important for us to score first,” Walter said. “Once we got that bases-loaded walk … everybody took a deep breath and we were able to relax.”

Chrisi Mizera and Hudack hit two-run singles, Johnson drilled her two-run double and Warren added a run-scoring double to make the result academic.

It also meant the Saints could swing for the fences.

“We have a lot of power in our lineup,” said Warren, who has a team-high 41 RBIs. “We have room to play small ball, but sometimes we get so far ahead that we don’t need to use it.”

Players say they aren’t concerned about who finishes with more homers.

“As long as it’s winning us games, I don’t care,” said Logergren, who bats in the cleanup position and follows Warren, her former Duluth Denfeld teammate. “I love batting after her. If she hits a home run, I’m like, ‘OK, less pressure on me.’ ”

Warren, who was a homer shy of hitting for the cycle Sunday, feels the same way batting behind Johnson. Hudack, Logergren and Johnson also all are hitting above .400 and lead a team that has totaled 139 extra-base hits.

“It’s nice when there’s more than one person hitting bombs over the fence,” Johnson said.

That power-hitting theme could be key for the Saints at regionals, where opposing pitchers likely will have more heat on their fastball than UMAC rivals. If so, the Saints hope to continue adding to their record.

“The faster the ball, the farther it goes,” Johnson said.

UMAC Championship

St. Scholastica 16,Northland 1, 5 innings

At Kenwood Field. WP: Micah McGuiness 5IP, 0ER, 6H, 8K, 2BB. LP: Jayna Loy 1.1IP, 9ER, 5BB. CSS: Tiff Hudack 2x3, 2RBIs, 2R; Rendi Johnson 2x3 (2R-HR in 4th), 4RBIs, 3R; Kara Warren 3x4 (2B, 3B), RBI; Nikki Logergren 2x3; Chrisi Mizera 2RBIs; Molly Jazdzewski 2R; Kasandra McCabe 2R. NC: Kaitlyn Witthun 3x3, RBI.

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