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College softball: Bulldogs' Sadler hits a homer for the ages

Sammi Sadler (No. 8) has been a dependable player at the plate and in the outfield in four seasons with the Bulldogs. File / UMD Athletics

Minnesota Duluth senior outfielder Sammi Sadler came to bat in the fourth inning of the NSIC softball tournament against top-seeded Winona State last week thinking she would attempt a bunt.

The game was scoreless and neither team had a hit, so Sadler wanted to try to make something happen. She did, but it certainly was no bunt. Instead, Sadler took an 0-1 pitch and deposited it over the right field fence.

“I had never hit a home run in my entire life,” Sadler said. “I was shocked that I swung.”

And the Bulldogs were shocked that it went over. Sadler, a four-year starter at UMD, has hit triples and doubles and three inside-the-park home runs, but had never put one beyond the fence, not in college, high school or youth, until then.

“The third baseman and first baseman were playing kind of back,” Sadler explained, “so I thought maybe I should drop a bunt in, but the pitch was already in the air. So I was like, ‘Nah.’ I just swung, and it was just so surreal. I was not expecting it at all.”

Sammi Sadler (8) gets a hit against St. Cloud State at Malosky Stadium on March 26. Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.comSadler would certainly take another home run or two this week as the Bulldogs (33-20) open play in the NCAA Division II tournament against Central Oklahoma (45-5) at 2:30 p.m. Thursday in Edmond, Okla.

Central Oklahoma isn’t only the Central Regional’s top seed and tournament host, the Bronchos are ranked No. 1 in the nation. Sadler wouldn’t have it any other way.

After squeaking into the tournament, after some nerve-wracking moments awaiting the NCAA selection show, the Bulldogs are looking at this week as bonus ball. Sadler and infielder Kalynn Tilton are the only seniors on UMD’s roster and are both captains.

“We have absolutely nothing to lose,” Sadler said. “We’re all excited to be here. We thought it could have been over. We’re just … we’re happy to be here. To end our senior seasons like this, and possibly even go farther, we couldn’t ask for anything more than this.”

Sadler, of Brooklyn Park, Minn., was a multisport athlete for Maple Grove High School. St. Cloud State was among the other schools to show interest in her, but with her older sister Cayli already pitching at UMD, the Bulldogs were an easy fit.

Sammi Sadler pitched throughout high school and has even toed the rubber for UMD, but her time on the mound for the Bulldogs has been minimal.

“My sister’s shoes were way too big to fill,” Sadler said, laughing.

Cayli Sadler, 24, closed out her career as UMD’s all-time leader in pitching victories and appearances, and the sisters got to play together one year for the Bulldogs.

“I really enjoyed playing with my sister freshman year,” Sammi Sadler said. “That was the first year I’ve ever played with my sister, the only year, and it was awesome.”

It was during that first year at UMD that Sadler earned the nickname, “Dubs,” from a senior on that team. There were three Sams on the team, but Sammi was the only one who used a double “m,” plus Sammi Saddler was a double “s,” and she was the second Sadler on the team.

“I never had a nickname up until that point,” Sadler said.

And Sadler never had a home run until last week.

That’s not to say she hasn’t come close.

Sadler hit .234 as a freshman with a double. She batted .303 as a sophomore with 13 doubles. She enjoyed her best season last year, batting .350 with 13 doubles and a triple. This year she is batting .274 with four doubles and two triples.

Sadler’s lack of a home run became a running joke on the team.

“I’ve come inches away multiple times,” Sadler said. “I have hits off the yellow ring (atop the outfield fence), or to within three feet of the top of the fence, at least 10 times in my career. Last year it was like eight times. It was ridiculous.

“My whole team knows. I get crap for it all the time. Coach (Jen Walter) was always, ‘Dubs, when you going to get your home run? When you going to get your home run?’ And all I could say was, ‘I don’t know.’ I felt cursed, almost.”

And that’s what makes last week’s round-tripper all the more special. It was all about perseverance, with a splash of occasional power.

Now when Walter asks her, Sadler can answer.

“I just had that feeling,” Sadler said. “I looked at the right fielder and saw her start walking toward the fence. It wasn’t a sprint, it wasn’t like she was trying to get under the ball to catch it. I just knew.

“You honestly can’t say anything about it, other than it was amazing. It was completely unexpected. I was glowing proud of myself at that point in time. It was fun, and to have the support of my entire team, to come out onto the field after that, was just awesome.”

THURSDAY'S COLLEGE SOFTBALL GAMES

What: NCAA Division II Tournament

Central Regional

At Central Oklahoma

No. 5 Southern Arkansas (45-11) vs. No. 4 Arkansas Tech (44-13), noon

No. 8 Minnesota Duluth (33-20) at No. 1 Central Oklahoma (45-5), 2:30 p.m.

College Spotlight

SAMMI SADLER, AT A GLANCE:

Year: Minnesota Duluth softball senior

Hometown: Brooklyn Park, Minn.

Major: mechanical engineering

GPA: 3.1

Family: father, Steve; mother, Marci; older sister, Cayli, 24, who closed out her career as UMD’s all-time leader in pitching victories and appearances

Age: 22

Post-graduation plans: will travel to Portugal and Thailand before starting to look for jobs

FIVE FAVORITES

Professional team: Chicago Cubs

College course: Kinematics and mechatronics

TV show: Dexter

Restaurant: Zeitgeist Arts Cafe

Movie: the entire Harry Potter Series

GETTING TO KNOW HER

Why I chose UMD: my older sister went to school here, so that was a big part of my decision, and they have really good mechanical engineering program, and especially the scenery of Duluth. It’s beautiful.

Game-day ritual: I’m definitely superstitious; I put my batting gloves and cleats on the same way every single time.

Most memorable softball moment: I’ve really enjoyed getting to know the team every single season.

Pet peeve: I hate when people tap their foot or pencil or shake their leg and just make noise constantly throughout class.

Biggest fear: snakes

My first job: Noodles and Company, age 16

Person I’d most like to meet: Oprah Winfrey

What most people don’t know about me: I have three cats; I’m a huge fan of cats, and Harry Potter.

Best athlete I’ve competed against (and with): former teammate Becky Smith

If I could change one thing about myself: be taller, so I probably could run faster and cover more ground (laughed)

Sport I’d like to try someday: volleyball

Best thing about college softball: It is such a team sport; it might seem so individual throughout the whole game, but if you’re not on, your team is going to pick you up. It’s very team oriented.

Biggest influences on my softball career: definitely my family, my mom, my dad and sister

Advice to aspiring young athletes: Just stick with it. There are so many people striving to play college sports, but just keep persevering and trying your hardest, pushing every single day to do what you want and have fun with it. Once it starts not being fun, that’s when you know you’ve lost it.