BLOOMER — An almost unbelievable stroke of bad luck has left a softball team on a 15-game winning streak in a unique spot.
Bloomer remained perfect in Heart O’North Conference play on Saturday with a doubleheader sweep of Barron, winning by scores of 15-0 in four innings and 18-6 in five innings.
The combined 33 runs on Saturday may mask the point, but the Blackhawks are still searching for the right combination within their batting order. That need has developed recently as Bloomer lost starting first baseman Isabella Jenneman and centerfielder Shaina Zwiefelhofer for the season, each with ACL injuries. Both injuries occurred last Tuesday in the team’s doubleheader sweep of Cumberland in the same game, in the same inning.
Jenneman is the team’s cleanup hitter while Zwiefelhofer bats one spot behind her in the fifth spot and was hitting over .500 at the time of the injury. The injuries have left the Blackhawks and first-year coach Keith Poirier searching for the right combination in the lineup and on defense with the postseason right around the corner.
“You lose your four and your five hitter, so it changes our lineup and defensively who is our best centerfielder defensively now with Shaina out? Who do we move to first? We’re using the last five games to figure that out and hopefully it falls into place but I don’t know if we’re there yet,” coach Poirier said. “We’ve got two games left (in the regular season) and we’ll see what happens.”
Bloomer scored five in the first inning of game one with just one ball being hit out of the infield, a two-run double from Sammy Buchholtz. Taking a five-run lead into the bottom of the third, Shantelle Ruf opened her team’s half of the inning with a high-arching home run to left field, one that hit the top of the fence and bounced over for a round tripper. Ruf entered Saturday with just one hit on the season, but doubled her total in a big way.
Maggie Rada plated a run on a single later in the inning as the Blackhawks were able to take advantage of miscues from the Golden Bears and show patience to pull away for the win in game one.
Sidney Kostner doubled and tripled while scoring three runs and driving in two. Buchholtz and Ruf drove in three and two, respectively, while Hailey DiGidio doubled and Skyler Bellrichard scored three runs.
Emily Kuehl tossed four hitless innings in the circle to go with five strikeouts and two walks.
Bloomer scored 11 runs in the top of the first inning en route to an 18-6 win in five innings to cap the sweep. Kostner and DiGidio each doubled and combined to drive in five runs. Rada, Trinity Grey and Annabelle Wittrock each had two runs batted in while Ashley Poirier scored three runs in the victory.
Kuehl threw an unblemished seven-pitch first inning before giving way to Grey, who struck out three while allowing three earned runs the rest of the way to get the win.
Kuehl has stepped into the circle for the Blackhawks this spring and done exactly what has been asked of her, throwing strikes and letting the defense behind her make plays.
Saturday’s four-hit no-no wasn’t the first time Kuehl has thrown a no-hitter this spring. She also threw a five-inning perfect game against Hayward on May 1 and overall has more wins in the circle this spring than walks allowed.
“She throws strikes, she pitches to contact and we have to be ready to play defense,” coach Poirier said of Kuehl. “The changeup helps her get through the lineup that third time.”
Bloomer fell in its season opener at Superior on April 20 by a score of 7-2, but since then has rattled off 15 straight wins.
The Blackhawks returned plenty of offensive firepower from last season’s Division 3 state tournament qualifier, including the entire starting infield. It took a few games for the team to find its stride, but a deep lineup has developed that will now be tested even more with the loss of Jenneman and Zwiefelhofer.
“We just have a better approach at the plate than we did up there (in Superior),” coach Poirier said on the improvement. “The Superior game carried over until about game four and then the girls started understanding who they were and what they were supposed to do. Since then we’ve been hitting the ball fairly well, having consistently good at-bats instead of everybody going up there (to bat) without a plan.”
Bloomer is ranked seventh in the latest Wisconsin Fastpitch Softball Coaches Association Division 3 state coaches poll.
Eyes on a title
Bloomer enters the final week of the regular season at the top of the Heart O’North Conference with a 12-0 record.
The team can clinch the title outright with a win at Northwestern on Tuesday, the team on its heels with one conference loss (a 15-5 defeat to Bloomer on April 26). But the ‘Hawks may also clinch at least a share of the title before Tuesday’s matchup. Northwestern and Cumberland meet in a doubleheader on Monday in Cumberland.
Regardless of what happens before Tuesday’s game, coach Poirier said his team is looking to finish the regular season strong.
“We’re not going up to there to lose. I talked with Emily about that we need her to step up and do what she did the last time we faced them and allow us to tinker with the lineup and the positions and see where we’re going to be best 1-9 hitting and where we’re going to fit on the field,” coach Poirier said.