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The Journal Gazette

  • Matthew Vader | Trine Trine players celebrate their victory over Hope on Saturday. The Thunder outscored the opposition 24-7 and showed an improved level of maturity as they advanced to the Super Regionals.

Friday, May 19, 2017 1:00 am

Trine hungers for more in softball

JUSTIN A. COHN | The Journal Gazette

If you get a chance to see Trine's softball players outside of a game, chances are you will still see them still with their game faces on, competing over something. Whether it's at practice, outside a dorm or on the bus playing euchre, everyone hungers to win maybe more than any other previous group for coach Donnie Danklefsen.

“It's fun to watch them battle,” Danklefsen said. “But as soon as it's over, they're really good at letting it go – 'We're a team. We can compete. But we're also on the same page.' ”

That drive for success has helped the Thunder get to the Super Regional stage of the postseason, where it will play host to Wisconsin-Oshkosh in a best-of-3 set that begins today in Angola.

A victory would propel the Thunder to the eight-team NCAA Division III Championships in Oklahoma City against either Amherst or Ramapo. The Thunder made it to that stage once before, in 2014. This is the third time Trine has made it to a Super Regional.

The 16-player Trine roster is packed with youth – seven freshmen and three sophomores – and that seemed a potential hindrance four weeks ago. After Trine won its first 19 games, and 28 of its first 30, the Thunder was mired in a four-game losing streak. But it's now 35-8, having swept Greenville, Wisconsin-Whitewater and Hope in regional games in Whitewater, Wisconsin, outscoring the opposition 24-7 along the way and showing an improved level of maturity.

“We started off so hot that we never learned how to lose,” Danklefsen said. “When we finally lost a couple of games, it hit them really hard. They kind of felt like they were done and I was like, 'Guys, you lost a couple of games. That's going to happen. You're not going to win every game.' So I think they figured out what they had to do to be successful and how to get through adversity.”

Whereas the Thunder went into the regional without much in the way of a scouting report on a couple of opponents, its early victories allowed it to drive to LaCrosse, Wisconsin, and scout today's foe, Wisconsin-Oshkosh (33-11), which is led by pitcher Sara Brunlieb's 0.41 ERA in 17 postseason innings.

Trine's Danielle Ray, who was named the Most Outstanding Player of the regional with two wins and a save, is a freshman from Hamilton, Ohio, with an 18-3 record, five saves, a 1.87 ERA, 146 strikeouts and 30 walks.

Kaylee Fox, a junior, is batting .357 and leads the team in home runs (16, second in the nation) and RBI (47). Freshman Makenna Hartline is batting .308 with 11 home runs, 38 RBI and seven stolen bases, while her twin sister, Michaela, is batting .323 with six home runs and 25 RBI.

Freshman Carly Bachna is batting .388 with 12 home runs and 40 RBI, and junior Emily White has 16 stolen bases.

While Trine is offensively charged – it leads the nation in home runs per game, is seventh with a slugging percentage of .526 and is 17th with 6.86 runs per game – defensive-minded Wisconsin-Oshkosh is fourth in the nation with a fielding percentage of .975 and has shut out opponents 10 times.

Game 1 is 4 p.m. today at Trine. Game 2 will be 1 p.m. Saturday, and Game 3, if necessary, will follow.

“This is a very competitive group,” Danklefsen said. “Anything we do as a team, they're trying to win. They talk crap back and forth, in a friendly way and in a good way, and they're just a good bunch of kids that said, 'There's no reason we should be losing games. We're pretty talented. Let's go.' And it's been fun to watch them mature and grow.”

jcohn@jg.net