Softball: Yellowjackets' run ends in defeat

Wisconsin-Superior has been like Mine That Bird this weekend at the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference softball tournament. But unlike the 50-to-1 long shot that won the Kentucky Derby, the eighth-seeded Yellowjackets couldn't muster e...

Wisconsin-Superior has been like Mine That Bird this weekend at the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference softball tournament.

But unlike the 50-to-1 long shot that won the Kentucky Derby, the eighth-seeded Yellowjackets couldn't muster enough magic to win it all.

Second-seeded Wisconsin-La Crosse used stellar pitching to win the championship 2-0 on Sunday before about 250 fans at Liebart Field in Superior. It was the first time a No. 8 seed made it to the title game, and afterward, you didn't see the customary tears and sad faces associated with a season-ending loss.

"I'm not even sad because we were so underestimated," said UWS pitcher Kalli Kucharyski. "We came in as the eighth seed but then took down the top team in the conference and just kept it going. I'd rather come into the tournament under the radar and show everyone up than to have too much expected out of you and not do it at all. We have nothing to hang our heads about."

Kucharyski did her part to make the title game interesting. La Crosse had pounded UWS pitching in three previous meetings, all in the past week, with the Eagles winning 4-3 and 15-8 on April 27 and 13-2 on Saturday in the tournament as Kucharyski gave up nine runs in just one inning.


But Kucharyski kept her focus, changed speeds and didn't allow a run until the top of the sixth when La Crosse started the inning with back-to-back doubles and then took advantage of two UWS errors to score two runs.

That would be all the sophomore would allow as she scattered six hits, with one walk and one strikeout.

"I'm really proud of this team for doing what they did. They never gave up and believed in themselves," UWS coach Roger Plachta said. "La Crosse rocked Kalli the other day, and it's hard for a pitcher to come back after getting beat bad like that, but she sucked it up and pitched her best game of the season. If it wasn't for her, we wouldn't have even been in this game."

But the usually sound UWS offense misfired until the bottom of the seventh inning when Melissa Kunzelman and Jen Parchem led off with back-to-back singles. Kaylyn Von Glahn relieved starter Heather Schultz and got a ground out, pop up and strikeout to end the game.

Even if UWS had won, the Yellowjackets (16-20) would have needed another victory over La Crosse (34-10) to claim the championship in the double elimination tournament and an automatic berth into the NCAA Division III tournament.

Plachta joked that the Eagles should have let Yellowjackets win because they will likely make the NCAA tournament regardless, but La Crosse coach Chris Helixon knows Plachta better than that. UWS won tournament titles in 2002 and 2004, and Plachta remembers one of those teams being seeded sixth. There has been talk of the WIAC going to a six-team league tournament, but both coaches are against it.

"It would be a shame if we switched to that," Helixon said. "Everyone is uneasy at this tournament because anybody can beat anybody, and Superior showed that here. Roger is a top-notch competitor, and his teams reflect that. I'm not surprised by how they did. Not at all."

UWS featured five starters who hail from Superior, including Kucharyski. The Yellowjackets lost nine straight games at one point. Then Kucharyski, who played at UMD in 2006, got back into her groove after taking two years off and the Yellowjackets' defense improved.


"Hits, errors and losing are contagious," Kucharyski said. "I can believe we made it this far because every single one of us is good individually, but sometimes you have to learn to play together. We did that in the tournament. We came in with a clean slate and played well where it counts."

Jon Nowacki joined the News Tribune in August 1998 as a sports reporter. He grew up in Stephen, Minnesota, in the northwest corner of the state, where he was actively involved in school and sports and was a proud member of the Tigers’ 1992 state championship nine-man football team.

After graduating in 1993, Nowacki majored in print journalism at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, serving as editor of the college paper, “The Aquin,” and graduating with honors in December 1997. He worked with the Associated Press during the “tobacco trial” of 1998, leading to the industry’s historic $206 billion settlement, before moving to Duluth.

Nowacki started as a prep reporter for the News Tribune before moving onto the college ranks, with an emphasis on Minnesota Duluth football, including coverage of the Bulldogs’ NCAA Division II championships in 2008 and 2010.

Nowacki continues to focus on college sports while filling in as a backup on preps, especially at tournament time. He covers the Duluth Huskies baseball team and auto racing in the summer. When time allows, he also writes an offbeat and lighthearted food column entitled “The Taco Stand,” a reference to the “Taco Jon” nickname given to him by his older brother when he was a teenager that stuck with him through college. He has a teenage daughter, Emma.

Nowacki can be reached at or (218) 380-7027. Follow him on Twitter @TacoJon1.
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