BLOOMINGTON — There were a lot of stars for Illinois Wesleyan’s softball team Saturday while nailing down the NCAA Division III regional championship at IWU Field.
Let’s start with Beyonce.
“We’ve become super big Beyonce fans,” said junior right fielder Mia Massaro. “Our eight-minute warmup before the games … it’s all Beyonce. I guess that keeps us pretty loose.”
The top-seeded Titans were in rhythm from the start in the championship game against Calvin, scoring two runs in the first and four in the third on their way to an 8-0 victory in six innings. It gave IWU its fourth straight regional title and advanced the Titans (36-7) to next weekend’s Super Regional, which is likely to also be at IWU.
Massaro had two hits and scored three times in a game delayed nearly six hours from its original start time by rain. She was seven for nine in IWU’s three regional wins.
“I really don’t know what happened this weekend,” she said. “I’ve never played this well in my entire life. But it’s so fun. I’m not nervous. I just go out there and play. The team makes it so easy to be loose.”
IWU coach Tiffany Prager called her team “a fun group to coach,” adding, “They were singing when we were getting ready to warm up. I knew the group was in a great place and the team was ready to play.”
IWU junior pitcher Brea Walker (14-4) stranded a runner in scoring position in the top of the first before her teammates struck in the bottom half.
Speedy leadoff hitter Jillian Runyon reached on an error, advanced to third on Massaro’s single and scored on a wild pitch. Shelby Fulk’s groundout scored Massaro for a 2-0 lead.
Fulk had an RBI single in the four-run third, which began with walk to Massaro. Hayley Earl, Julie Josten and Amanda Rogers also had RBIs in the inning for a 6-0 cushion.
“From the momentum standpoint to take that lead right away was big,” Prager said. “Brea did a great job in the first part of that (first) inning to get them out. Brea has worked so hard. She crushed it out there.”
Walker allowed six hits, struck out three and walked three before leaving with two outs in the fifth and the bases loaded. IWU junior ace Ally Wiegand got a strikeout to end the inning and retired the Knights (31-10) in order in the sixth.
“We’ve been doing super great on hitting and backing me up on defense,” Walker said. “I’m not usually a strikeout pitcher. I’m used to having people hit me, but have them hit it where they don’t want to. That’s really the main goal of it. That’s how it worked out today.”
She was backed by an eight-hit attack that included three by shortstop Sam Berghoff. Fulk ended with three RBIs, including a sacrifice fly in the sixth that made it an eight-run rule victory. Just prior to that, Massaro raced home from second on a wild pitch.
“Jill (Runyon) is normally the one that pulls that stuff off,” Massaro said. “I saw the ball get away from her (the catcher) and I knew I had a chance so I went for it.”
Calvin stranded seven runners and narrowly missed a two-run homer in the fourth when Maddie DeGroot’s long drive to left was just foul. Anna Gernant (9-5) took the loss, with three of the Titans’ runs being unearned.
“With a team like Illinois Wesleyan, you can’t make mistakes against them and we just made maybe one or two that we’d love to have back,” Calvin coach Becky Hilgert said. “We had runners on in almost every inning and we just couldn’t connect. They have a great pitching staff and we just couldn’t get those big hits.”
Wiegand was named the regional’s Most Outstanding Player, with Massaro, Berghoff and Fulk making the all-tournament team. The Titans will face either Carthage or Wisconsin-Whitewater in the Super Regional. They are 3-1 against Carthage and 1-1 against Whitewater this season.