Tiger Women's Softball: Team aims for a bid to regional playoffs after doubleheader wins

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The Tigers, led by sophomore pitcher Emily Bichler, were able to win each of their four games against Hope College (12-9-1) and Trine University (14-5) this weekend, wins that carry regional and postseason significance.

With scores of 4-1 and 2-0 against Hope and 2-1 and 4-0 against Trine, DePauw improved their chances of securing an outright bid to the regional playoffs.

Winning these games was very important since Trine and Hope are in the Tigers' region, said senior Emma Minx, a second baseman.

"If we don't get a bid out of our conference, we can qualify for an open bid because of our regional ranking," she said.

The weekend highlighted Bichler's ability to be the ace pitcher the Tigers rely on when the offense cannot get into a rhythm at the plate.

Due to the high winds during all four games, hard hit balls to the outfield were held short. For a Tiger offense that consistently hits deep drives to the outfield, the wind was a huge factor in the low-scoring games, and the Tigers had to capitalize on miscues from the opposing defense.

With the pressure on Bichler to keep the opposing offense at bay, she continually got out of jams by pitching around batters and getting them to pop up to the infield or hit grounders right at the Tiger defense. DePauw's defense didn't commit an error in all four games and made key plays for Bichler when they needed to.

"It's great when you have an amazing pitcher," said first baseman Jamie Story, a sophomore. "We need to pick the pitcher up because she's counting on you. We're going to play good teams who put the ball in play, and Bichler knows she has an amazing defense behind her."

The pitching this weekend answered the one big question the team had at the beginning of the year: would the Tigers be able to replace all-American ace Meg Soultz? With this weekend's games, the team feels Bichler is filling those large cleats vacated by Soultz on the mound.

"I am blown away that she was even throwing her pitches across the plate with all the wind," Story said. "She was still hitting her spots and getting them right where she wanted them. That was amazing."

A balance of offense and pitching has taken shape with the emergence of Bichler as an elite pitcher. The entire offense from last year's team returned and is capable of putting up high numbers on the score board if weather conditions allow for those deep drives to the outfield. This weekend, head coach Bonnie Skrenta wisely chose to play small-ball as a strategy to combat the wind. When her players would get on first with one or no outs in the inning, Skrenta would call for the sacrifice bunt to move the runner from first to second even if a strong batter, such as sophomore Amy Hallet or junior Haley Buchanan, was at the plate.

"The girls were 4-4 on bunts putting runners in scoring position," said Skrenta of Saturday's wins over Hope. "The key to these tough regionally ranked matchups is the team that capitalizes on the other team's mistake is usually the one that wins."

Putting pressure on the defense to make plays in such windy conditions allowed for the Tiger offense to put up just enough runs for Bichler, who with four wins on the weekend improved to 15-2.

The Tigers face Anderson University (11-9) on Thursday for another doubleheader.