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College softball: After shocking loss, ’Jackets buzz back in UMAC tournament

Sophomore Tayler Kraemer leads the way as UWS moves on to face Bethany Lutheran in title game.

UW-Superior’s Tayler Kraemer (22) slides safely into second for a stolen base as Minnesota Morris’ Jasmine Jensen (1) tries to stop the ball
UW-Superior’s Tayler Kraemer (22) slides safely into second for a stolen base as Minnesota Morris’ Jasmine Jensen (1) tries to stop the ball in the third inning of the Yellowjackets win at the NBC Spartan Sports Complex in Superior on Friday afternoon, May 6, 2022.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram
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SUPERIOR — The Wisconsin-Superior softball team steamrolled Minnesota Morris during the regular season, outscoring the Cougars 37-5 in three contests en route to winning the program’s first regular-season conference title and No. 1 seed in this week’s UMAC tournament.

So what happened when the teams met again?

Well, naturally, Morris shut down UWS 2-0 in their tournament opener Thursday, May 5.

If you think that’s a shock, how do you think the Yellowjackets felt?

“I think we all just took a moment to compose ourselves and said, ‘That should never happen,’” said sophomore pitcher Tayler Kraemer.

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Well, it certainly didn’t happen again, thanks to Kraemer and company.

Kraemer overcame early control issues to lead UWS to a 9-1 victory over Morris in five innings Friday, May 6, before 250 at NBC Spartan Sports Complex, eliminating the fourth-seeded Cougars (13-23) from the double-elimination tournament.

“I think dropping that first game lit a fire under our butts really quick,” Kraemer said. “We took for granted being the No. 1 seed, so we had to come back and prove that we earned that throughout the season. It was 100% a wake-up call, and it showed how much passion we have. This game was about who had more want to win, and we did.”

UWS (33-9) plays third-seeded Bethany Lutheran (28-14) for the UMAC title at noon Saturday, May 6, at NBC Spartan Sports Complex, with the Yellowjackets needing to win two to take the title. They’ve been in this situation before, having beaten Northwestern twice last year to take the tournament title and earn the conference’s automatic berth into the NCAA Division III tournament.

“Our team has never done anything easy, right?” joked UWS coach Melissa Fracker, who in her first two seasons with the Yellowjackets has experienced unprecedented success. “It’s been a difficult spring just with the weather and everything else, so let’s just keep it rolling.”

With sunny skies, temperatures in the 40s and swirling winds off the lake, Friday felt downright balmy compared to what we’ve had this spring.

“Yesterday, the two flags (at the ballpark) were going in different directions, so I told our outfielders, ‘Good luck,’” Morris coach Heather Pennie-Roy said.

Kraemer (20-6) allowed one run on three hits, with four walks and three strikeouts. Offensively, she had three hits, a run and RBI.

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Jessica Jacobson also had three hits while Norah Schmitz and Olivia Bancroft-Hart added two hits apiece as UWS, after a slow start, finished with 14 hits.

“As a coach, it’s not really up to me, it’s up to the players,” Fracker said. “But I know that when our backs are against the wall, all year, we fought out of it, so I was not nervous today. I knew they were going to come ready to play, and they were going to bring their absolute best, and they did.”

Tori Nichols-Kraft had two hits and Sierra Stevens added two walks and a run to lead Morris.

Pennie-Roy said she wanted to prove that Thursday’s victory was no fluke, and for the first three innings the Cougars were showing that before timely hitting by UWS and sloppy fielding by Morris caused the contest to end early.

“Superior has a good team. They were going to come around and hit eventually,” Pennie-Roy said. “We just tried to keep the top half of their order off the bases because when they get on, it’s a steal-fest, every time. We couldn’t keep them off the bases today like we did yesterday.”

UWS finished with four stolen bases, with Tayler Kraemer having two while her older sister Kaela Kraemer and Jessica Jacobson added one apiece.

For the Kraemer sisters, a single is a double. Heck, maybe even a triple. Kaela Kraemer now has an incredible 71 stolen bases on the season — she’s leading the country in that department — compared to 25 for Tayler.

So who is faster?

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“We’ve raced so many times, and I think that we’re even, but on the bases, she does look a little faster,” Tayler Kraemer said. “It’s because of her jump, but honestly, we’re the same speed.”

Yellowjackets eliminate Eagles

Tayler Kraemer tossed a seven-hitter with four strikeouts and three walks as Wisconsin-Superior eliminated second-seeded Northwestern with a 3-1 victory in Friday’s earlier game.

Tayler Kraemer and Tiffany Kirk had two hits apiece while Kaela Kraemer had a hit, walk, three stolen bases and three runs.

Senior Briggs Carlson (12-9) took the loss despite allowing just two earned runs in six innings for the Eagles (23-13), who pushed across a run in the first inning before Kraemer found her mark.

Kraemer said she is historically a slow starter, giving up most of her runs in the first three innings.

“I’m definitely a pitcher that needs to settle in a little bit and feel it out,” she said. “But then once I get into a groove, there is nothing really stopping me. It just takes me a little bit to get going.”

If that’s the case, Fracker should have Kraemer warming up about 6 a.m. Saturday.

UW-Superior’s Jessica Jacobson (14) and Ellie Macal (21) are greeted by teammates at home after scoring
UW-Superior’s Jessica Jacobson (14) and Ellie Macal (21) are greeted by teammates at home after scoring in the fourth inning of the Yellowjackets win over Minnesota Morris at the NBC Spartan Sports Complex in Superior on Friday afternoon, May 6, 2022.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram
UW-Superior’s Kaela Kraemer (8) fields a ball at shortstop in front of Minnesota Morris’ Olivia Diver (16)
UW-Superior’s Kaela Kraemer (8) fields a ball at shortstop in front of Minnesota Morris’ Olivia Diver (16) in the fourth inning of the
Yellowjackets win at the NBC Spartan Sports Complex in Superior on Friday afternoon, May 6, 2022. Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram
UW-Superior’s Tayler Kraemer (22) fires a pitch
UW-Superior’s Tayler Kraemer (22) fires a pitch in the third inning of the Yellowjackets win over Minnesota Morris at the NBC Spartan Sports Complex in Superior on Friday afternoon, May 6, 2022.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram
UW-Superior’s Tiffany Kirk (2) fields a ball at second base
UW-Superior’s Tiffany Kirk (2) fields a ball at second base in the third inning of the Yellowjackets win over Minnesota Morris at the NBC Spartan Sports Complex in Superior on Friday afternoon, May 6, 2022.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

Jon Nowacki joined the News Tribune in August 1998 as a sports reporter. He grew up in Stephen, Minnesota, in the northwest corner of the state, where he was actively involved in school and sports and was a proud member of the Tigers’ 1992 state championship nine-man football team.

After graduating in 1993, Nowacki majored in print journalism at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, serving as editor of the college paper, “The Aquin,” and graduating with honors in December 1997. He worked with the Associated Press during the “tobacco trial” of 1998, leading to the industry’s historic $206 billion settlement, before moving to Duluth.

Nowacki started as a prep reporter for the News Tribune before moving onto the college ranks, with an emphasis on Minnesota Duluth football, including coverage of the Bulldogs’ NCAA Division II championships in 2008 and 2010.

Nowacki continues to focus on college sports while filling in as a backup on preps, especially at tournament time. He covers the Duluth Huskies baseball team and auto racing in the summer. When time allows, he also writes an offbeat and lighthearted food column entitled “The Taco Stand,” a reference to the “Taco Jon” nickname given to him by his older brother when he was a teenager that stuck with him through college. He has a teenage daughter, Emma.

Nowacki can be reached at jnowacki@duluthnews.com or (218) 380-7027. Follow him on Twitter @TacoJon1.
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