The team’s MIAC-leading statistics earned it a top spot in the playoffs
Sports | Jenny Hudalla
Freshman catcher Caroline Kivisto was an offensive leader for the Royals, finishing with a team-high 41 RBIs. | Photo for The Clarion by Drea Chalmers
Neither rain nor snow could extinguish the softball team’s fiery determination to reach the postseason, as the Royals posted their best record in team history and clinched the No. 2 seed in the conference playoffs.
Bethel swept Gustavus, a conference powerhouse, for the first time since 1998 to end the regular season with a 23-13 overall record (14-6 MIAC). Finishing with the same offensive dominance they showed all season, the Royals won 14 of their last 16 games and outscored opponents 136-62.
While the team drew a conference-high 113 walks before the playoffs, the players showed off more than just a sharp eye at the plate. The Royals led the conference in triples, home runs, runs scored, RBIs and slugging percentage, and fell only to the undefeated Tommies in hits, doubles and batting average. Sophomore Angie Jackson led the team’s offense, batting well enough in the regular season to earn the top spot in the MIAC with a .517 average. She also placed fourth in home runs and fifth in RBIs.
Although the Royals’ stellar offense has received much recognition, the team’s pitching staff also performed remarkably well. Freshman Karli Persson ended her rookie season with 19 wins and 140 strikeouts, both MIAC highs. Her stamina and consistency resulted in 21 complete games and four shutouts.
Versatility also played a significant role in the team’s success, as this spring’s nasty onslaught of winter weather forced the Royals to postpone, reschedule or cancel several MIAC competitions. Intense weekend schedules including six or more games tested the athletes’ endurance, and after playing 10 games in six days to end their regular season, the Royals enjoyed a much-needed rest before the postseason.
“Playing [so many games] was definitely tough, but our team is the most resilient team I have ever been a part of,” said senior captain Rachel Gilbert. “Everyone on our team is so mentally strong that we do not let fatigue or excuses define the outcome of the game.”
Although the Royals managed to cram in 20 conference games in spite of the inclement weather, other teams weren’t so lucky. Because schools like Concordia only played half as many games, coaches decided to revamp the postseason to include all 12 teams in a three-day, round-robin tournament.
Bethel’s No. 2 seed earned the team a first-round game against No. 11 Augsburg College, which the Royals won 11-3. However, their subsequent matchup against Saint Benedict proved to be much more of a challenge. The Royals trailed by one and were down to their last strike when senior Megan Matson blasted a walk-off, three-run home run to give Bethel a 7-5 victory.
“All I was thinking in my head was that I needed to make contact and get a base hit to at least tie up the game,” said Matson. “After winning that game, I think the whole team felt like we could do anything.”
After breezing past the No. 3 seed, St. Olaf, the Royals suffered a 3-2 loss in extra innings to St. Thomas, forcing them to go head-to-head with Gustavus to earn a spot in the championship against the Tommies. The Royals rose to the occasion once again, defeating the Gusties 5-2.
Having played five games in three days, facing St. Thomas for the second time was too much for Bethel. Although the underdog team lost 8-1, its second-place finish was the best in team history. Head coach Rod Radcliffe attributed the Royals’ success to the players’ diligence and all-around character.
“[The team] never gave up during a game or got frustrated with the weather,” he said. “This season was stamped into history because we have very hardworking athletes that not only play for their teammates, but also truly represent Christ on and off the field.”