Jordyn Beck aided the Cardinals' win.
North Central (Ill.) Athletics

WHITEWATER, Wis. -- North Central (Ill.) held what seemed to be an insurmountable 7-1 lead heading into the bottom of the sixth inning in its opening game of the NCAA Regionals, but Wisconsin-Eau Claire took advantage of four Cardinal errors to take a slim 8-7 advantage. However, the Cardinals responded with five runs in its final at-bat to hang on for a 12-10 victory against the Blugolds in a downpour at van Steenderen Softball Complex.

UW-Eau Claire (26-8) scratched across the first run of the ballgame in the second inning on an RBI groundout by by Nikki Brooks that scored Amanda Fischer.

The Cardinal (33-10) bats were silent for the first three innings against Eau Claire starter Emma Wishau. North Central finally got going in the fourth when Vlasta Mangia reached on a base hit single. She moved up on a sacrifice bunt by Amanda Walker and came around to score on a double by Kiersten Tinkoff.

The top of the fifth was the first of two huge innings for the Cardinals. North Central took advantage of a throwing error on a Kayla Antle bunt that allowed Tara Sears to score from second and Taylor Ryan to scoot to third. Mangia brought in Ryan with an infield single to chase Wishau.

The Cardinals gave Blugold reliever Zana Lorbetske a rude welcoming. Tinkoff walked before Walker blasted her fifth home run over the left field fence to give the Cardinals a 6-1 lead.

North Central added another run in the sixth without the ball leaving the infield. Jordyn Beck was hit by a pitch and Olivia Goethals walked with one out. Lorbetske retired Ryan, before walking Antle and Mangia consecutively to bring in Beck.

With a 7-1 lead and with Mangia (23-6) cruising in the circle, things seemed to be well in hand. However, the North Central infield made four errors, including two by Mangia and the Blugolds pounded out four hits to score seven runs and took an 8-7 lead into the final inning. Five of Eau Claire's runs were scored before an out was recorded and just two of them were earned.

North Central wouldn't go quietly and five consecutive Cardinals reached base safely in the seventh including a two-RBI single by Jordyn Beck, which turned into the game-winner, and a two-run double by Goethals down the left field line.

“Last Friday against Carthage I got a hit and it really restarted my confidence and I just saw the ball and hit the ball,” Beck said.   

Goethals advanced to third on a bunt by Antle and Walker picked up her second hit and fourth RBI on an infield single to the shortstop to give the Cardinals a 12-8 edge.

However, the drama continued in the bottom of the inning. With the Blugolds down to their final out, Taylor Pierce stroked a ball over the center field fence to cut the lead to 12-10, but Mangia got pinch hitter Deanna Gilane to ground out to Cecie Portillo to end the game.

“The CCIW is tough, so no matter who we play in Regionals we will be ready to play,” Mangia said. “Whoever plays us [Friday] has to play two games, so it will be nice to sleep in a little bit.  For me personally, I will only have to focus on pitching one game, which is nice.”