By Zach James
Herald Assistant Sports Editor
CLINTON — It was quiet for the first nine innings. Once the sun went down, Cardinal Stritch and Ashford decided to heat up the scoreboard.
The Wolves swept the Saints (14-12) in a softball doubleheader in Ashford’s home opener Tuesday with a 9-1 win in 10 innings, then hit two home runs in Game 2 to win 15-6 in five innings.
Stritch (27-5) entered Tuesday’s twinbill with the nation’s lowest ERA among NAIA Division I programs with 1.32. The Wolves’ pitching staff allowed 35 earned runs in 185 innings pitched.
In total, Stritch’s pitching staff allowed three earned runs in 15 innings Tuesday — moving the season ERA to 1.33.
Saints pitcher Nicole Schmidt matched her pitching counterpart, Tori Burke, pitch-for-pitch in her 9 1/3-inning outing.
“Those first nine innings were really fun,” Saints Coach Kevin Jannusch said. “Nicole just really picked up where she’s left off in her starts. I was really proud of her and thought we were right in there when she was out there. She’s savvy, and she knows her way around.”
Burke entered Tuesday with the nation’s third-lowest ERA in the NAIA with a 0.85.
One of those runs that Stritch allowed as earned came in the first game when Siera Spahiu hit a home run in the ninth inning to tie the game.
“Right off the bat, I knew it was gone,” said Spahiu, who also had a double in Game 2. “I was just really jacked to get the tying run, but unfortunately, we couldn’t make it work. It was cool, though.”
Spahiu had been looking forward to playing Stritch, which is located in Milwaukee. Spahiu grew up in nearby Franklin, Wisconsin, just 20 miles down the road.
“It was really cool to play against them, and we put up a pretty good battle,” the Saints junior first baseman said. “I wanted to win, but I know their record, I know how good they are, so I’m satisfied.”
Stritch’s 10th-inning explosion featured a three-run home run by Olivia Wenzel, then a solo homer by shortstop Jill Andreoni.
“Out of all the pitchers we’ve had here in my five years, Nicole is the one we want out there in that situation,” Jannusch said. “I’m OK in that situation going down with how that inning happened.”
In Game 2, Ashford committed five errors, including two dropped fly balls by the outfielders. Of the 15 runs that Stritch scored, nine were earned runs charged to Ashlee Amador and Shelby Yepsen.
“We have to play a lot better defense,” Jannusch said. “We miss a lot of balls that we should be catching. I’m a little disappointed in that. We’ve had our moments that have been frustrating.”
Much like the area high school baseball and softball teams, Ashford hasn’t been able to use River Queen Field much with the cool weather. As Jannusch pointed out, it’s harder to do defensive drills indoors compared to working on the offense.
“Yesterday was the first we were on this field for batting practice,” Jannusch said. “The weather has been nice compared to the last couple years, but part of it is, in our preseason, we emphasize hitting, because it’s easier to do inside.”
The results of the Saints’ offense is showing, as they’re averaging seven runs a game. The Saints are hitting .341 as a team, and .360 with runners in scoring position this season.
CARDINAL STRITCH 9, ASHFORD 1 (10 innings)
Cardinal Stritch 000 000 001 8 — 9 12 1
Ashford 000 000 001 0 — 1 8 5
Tori Burke (10 ip, 8 h, 1 r, 1 er, 1 bb, 8 so) and Erica Kramer. Nicole Schmidt (9 1/3 ip, 12 h, 9 r, 6 er, 1 bb, 9 so), Shelby Yepsen (2/3 ip, 0 h, 0 r, 0 er, 0 bb, 0 so) and Shelby Hobelman. Multiple hits — Stritch (Brittney Blazich 3, Kramer 2, Gabi Palacios 2); Ashford (Brianna De La Rosa 2). 2B — Stritch (Kramer); Ashford (Payton Geeting, Taylor Ellestad). HR — Stritch (Olivia Wenzel, Jill Andreoni); Ashford (Siera Spahiu). RBIs — Stritch (Wenzel 3, Kramer 2, Andreoni, Palacios, Blazich); Ashford (Spahiu).
CARDINAL STRITCH 15, ASHFORD 6 (5 INNINGS)
Cardinal Stritch 305 25 — 15 13 2
Ashford 130 02 — 6 9 5
Shannon Caliri (5 ip, 9 h, 6 r, 2 er, 1 bb, 0 so) and Erica Kramer. Ashlee Amador (2 1/3 ip, 4 h, 7 r, 3 er, 2 bb, 0 so), Shelby Yepsen (2 1/3 ip, 9 h, 8 r, 6 er, 2 bb, 1 so) and Natalia Reynoso. Multiple hits — Stritch (Andreoni 3, Kati Herberg 3, Kramer 2, Palacios 2, Wenzel 2); Ashford (Jacinda Swiger 2, Reynoso 2). 2B — Stritch (Palacios, Andreoni, Herberg); Ashford (Spahiu). HR — Stritch (Kramer, Wenzel). RBIs — Stritch (Andreoni 5, Herberg 3, Kramer 2, Wenzel); Ashford (Swiger 2, Hobelman, Reynoso).