The Journal Gazette
Friday, May 13, 2022 1:00 am

Thunder set to rumble in tourney again

Host regional after 2-year hiatus

DYLAN SINN | The Journal Gazette

ANGOLA – The Trine softball team is no stranger to the NCAA Tournament. The Thunder reached the Division III postseason every year from 2008 to 2019, won regional championships in 2014, 2016, 2017 and 2019 and finished third at the national championships in 2019.

The last two years, however, the Thunder have sat at home in mid-May. In 2020, the tournament was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic and last year the Thunder, despite being 30-8 record and ranked No. 21 nationally, were left out when the tournament was pared down to 48 from the usual 62 teams because of the pandemic.

Trine's two-year postseason hiatus ends this weekend when the top-seeded Thunder play host to Wisconsin-Eau Claire, the No. 4 seed, in a four-team, double-elimination NCAA Tournament Regional.

Win or lose, No. 20 Trine (27-11) will play again Saturday, and the championship series will be Sunday.

Centerfielder Ellie Trine did not hesitate when asked if this team had any extra motivation entering the postseason.

“Definitely,” the Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association Position Player of the Year said. “Knowing that the last two years we didn't get the chance to showcase anything, going in now, we've had two years to build up to this point.

“Going into the postseason for the first time for all of us except for four, we're all setting expectations pretty high.”

The Thunder's absence from the tournament the last two years has created a roster mostly of players without postseason experience. To prepare for this year's tournament, coach Don Danklefsen put together one of the most difficult nonconference schedules in the country, arranging games against the teams ranked first, second, third, fifth, seventh and 16th in the season-ending National Fastpitch Coaches Association poll within the first three days of the season.

Trine lost all six of those games – three by one run – and began the season 0-7, the worst start in program history. Along the way, however, the Thunder gained experience facing the teams at the division's highest level, experience Danklefsen hopes will be crucial this weekend and beyond.

“Every single game, we wanted that (tournament) feel,” said Danklefsen, who has led the Thunder since 2004. “That's why we overloaded the schedule so bad to get that big-game feeling, so hopefully this weekend it doesn't feel as big as those did. 

“Obviously, they know what's at stake. But I think they'll come in swinging free and they'll be relaxed.”

With Ellie Trine at the top of the order hitting .571 in conference play and staff ace Adrienne Rosey posting a 1.20 ERA and throwing a pair of no-hitters on her way to MIAA Pitcher of the Year honors, the Thunder tore through their conference slate with a 14-2 mark. They won the regular-season title then ripped off three more wins in the MIAA Tournament to take that trophy, as well. They placed seven players on All-MIAA teams.

Heading into postseason play, the Thunder are 23-2 in their last 25 games and winners of 12 in a row. They say there was not a notable light bulb moment, but rather a gradual recognition this team has the talent to add to the program's long list of accomplishments.

“We didn't have too much confidence after that start,” Rosey said. “But once we started playing in conference games, we realized we could beat all these teams and we've already played some of the hardest teams in the nation. We realized, 'We have something going here.'”

Rosey will start today against the Blugolds, who are hitting .332 as a team this season. Behind her, the Thunder can give the ball to MIAA ERA leader Anna Koeppl and sophomore strikeout artist Lauren Clausen.

“We feel pretty prepared,” Rosey said. “I love that it's on our field so we can dominate on our own field. ... We get to have our place and own it here.”


vs. Wisconsin-Eau Claire

What: Division III softball NCAA Tournament Regionals

When: 4:30 p.m. today

Where: SportONE/Parkview Softball Field, Angola

Records: Trine (27-11), Wisconsin-Eau Claire (26-9)


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