GLIAC Softball Cinderella Parkside Can Shake Up Regional Picture

GLIAC Softball Cinderella Parkside Can Shake Up Regional Picture

The Chicago suburbs are where it’s all going down Sunday, and only one program can exit the Windy City as 2023 GLIAC Softball Tournament champion.

May 7, 2023 by Briar Napier
GLIAC Softball Cinderella Parkside Can Shake Up Regional Picture

What’s there even left to say anymore after the madness of the past few days in the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Softball Tournament?

If there is anything, it’s that, just when you think you know the answers, chaos ensues.

No. 6 Wisconsin-Parkside—which was only a few regular-season defeats from not even qualifying for the GLIAC tourney—has embarked on an astonishing run to the championship game, where the Rangers are now within arm’s reach of their first NCAA Tournament appearance in nearly a quarter-century.

Then there’s No. 2 Saginaw Valley State, the four-time (and reigning) GLIAC tourney winner that’s established itself to be a top-tier team on the Division II softball stage. But with the tournament’s Cinderella blocking its way from holding the tournament trophy once again, the Cardinals are now faced with the unique challenge of not necessarily facing the best team in the final, but rather the one that’s gotten the most hot at the right time. 

The Chicago suburbs are where it’s all going down Sunday, and only one of those two programs can exit the Windy City with the distinction that it’s the 2023 GLIAC Softball Tournament champion. 

Here’s a look ahead at the GLIAC Softball Tournament championship game and its extra decider if needed, both of which will be streamed live on FloSoftball on Sunday afternoon.

How They Got Here

Alright, alright, let’s address the elephant in the room: How in the world is Parkside, which finished the regular season 16-30 and has been for the most part stomped repeatedly in the GLIAC since joining the league in 2019, now one opponent away from making the NCAA Tournament? The whole “everybody is 0-0 in the playoffs” schtick is a long-used cliche, but did the Rangers ever take that mantra and run with it. Parkside kicked off the tourney with a stunner in its first game on Thursday by shocking top-seeded Grand Valley State 2-1, less than a week after the Rangers were trounced over two games by the national title-seeking Lakers by a combined 14-0 score on the final weekend of the regular season. 

Further amplifying that there wasn’t going to be a hangover from the GVSU victory, Parkside toppled No. 4 Ferris State by a 6-4 margin on Friday to send it to the winner’s bracket semifinals—a shocking run for a team that just a year ago went 8-41. A narrow 5-4 loss to Saginaw Valley State denied the Rangers a trip to the final immediately, but Parkside finished the job by upsetting GVSU again via a 7-3 victory in the Saturday closer, and though the Rangers will be massive underdogs in the championship showdown with SVSU on Sunday, that clearly hasn’t stopped them yet in this tourney. 

The Cardinals’ run to the final was a bit more traditional as the No. 2 seed, with the defending tourney champs winning three in three days over Davenport, Purdue Northwest and Parkside to give them the unbeaten advantage Sunday, where they only need to win one of two games to book their place in the Midwest Regional for certain as the GLIAC’s automatic representative in the NCAA tourney.

What’s At Stake

Parkside isn’t a nobody in the D-II softball landscape, winning a combined 126 games in a historic two-season stretch from 1996-97 that included a trip to the national title game in '97, but it’s safe to say that the Rangers’ softball program, for the most part, has fallen on hard times as of late. Currently in the seventh year of the tenure of coach Kristin Ortman, the native Wisconsinite needed to have her team make a stride this year coming off her second single-digit win season in 2022 (not counting the pandemic-affected 2020 campaign). 

Taking the Rangers back to a NCAA Regional for the first time since 2000 would almost certainly be considered by the school’s brass as a step forward. As the Rangers lost Saturday, however, it does mean that Parkside needs to win two games back-to-back against the Cardinals to earn the GLIAC’s automatic bid, but when considering that the Rangers had no problem dispatching Grand Valley State—which entered the conference tournament with only one GLIAC loss on the year—not once, but twice this week, Sunday’s final is far from a guarantee for SVSU, even with two chances to do it. 

The fact that much of the Cardinals’ core has been here before, though, as last year’s tournament champions, should keep them calm and collected with the pressure mounting, even against an opponent with nothing to lose. 

Parkside needs an automatic bid to make the NCAA tourney as it’s nowhere near the Midwest Region cutoff zone (the No. 8 seed) in the most recently-released NCAA regional rankings, whereas SVSU in that same ranking was the No. 3 seed. Considering No. 2 GVSU’s slip-ups over the past few days, however—and No. 1 seed Indianapolis trying to stave off elimination in the Great Lakes Valley Conference tourney Sunday as of this writing—a Cardinals championship, especially one without a loss, could see them boost up a seed or two and get into the conversation of hosting some regional games.

Players to Watch

Saginaw Valley State: Paige Kolinski, C, Jr. 

The Second Team All-GLIAC backstop helped blast the Cardinals into the GLIAC tourney title game for the second straight year thanks to a double and two RBIs in SVSU’s Friday game against Purdue Northwest and by driving in the game-tying run that helped cap off a four-run third-inning surge in the semifinal win over Parkside—something that her team definitely needed in the clutch as the Rangers put the Cardinals in a 4-0 hole to start the game. It was another iteration of a season-long stretch in which Kolinski has been beating up on Parkside’s pitchers. Across 12 at-bats against the Rangers this year, Kolinski has batted .500 with three RBIs as she’s been one of the main pieces behind the Cards going 5-0 in 2023 against their GLIAC Tournament title-game opponent. Kolinski is able to flip games in the Cards’ favor (just ask Northwood, which was on the receiving end of her two-homer, five-RBI day April 24) with a couple of swings, and is a powerful tool in the SVSU arsenal and one it’ll be relying on in its push for back-to-back league tourney titles.

Wisconsin-Parkside: Alex Wooten, C, Sr.

The Illinois native entered the GLIAC tourney batting a modest .262 with just 11 RBIs in 42 games played on the season, playing as a frequent member of the Parkside lineup throughout the year but otherwise not someone most GLIAC fans and observers had on their minds entering the postseason. In just three days, with all the conversation around the tournament surrounding the Rangers, she’s turned into one of the league’s most vital players to their team. Wooten entered this week having never had a RBI streak of more than two games throughout her entire college career, yet has driven in a run in all four of Parkside’s GLIAC tourney games to this point and garnered four in the two games against GVSU alone—a stunning two-game run considering that the Lakers have all year established themselves as having one of the best top-to-bottom rotations in the country. A lot of Parkside players deserve credit for the program getting to this point (like pitcher Kiley Akey, who won the first GVSU game and against Ferris State to get the Rangers to the semis), but without Wooten’s epic displays out of near-nowhere, Parkside probably would’ve been long gone from the field already.