Softball rolls to 11-1 in conference play, Graf continues dominance

Julie Graf ’20 delivers a pitch against Bethel on April 18, 2021 at Rolf Mellby Field. Graf threw a no-hitter in the second game of the Oles double-header against the Royals. Photo by Ben Milhaupt ’20/Courtesy of St. Olaf Athletics

Julie Graf ’21 built off of her Division III Wilson/National Fastpitch Coaches Association Pitcher of the Week honors by throwing a no-hitter against Bethel University on April 18.

Graf began the game by striking out the side, finishing with nine strikeouts by the end of the game.

The only baserunners for Bethel were Jaime Axelberg, who Graf walked in the second inning, and Kayla Hokanson, who walked to start the fifth.

Graf has danced with no-hit bids throughout the season. A week before the game against Bethel, Graf carried a no-hitter into the seventh inning against Concordia-Moorhead. She also threw six no-hit innings earlier in the week while recording a season-high sixteen strikeouts against St. Mary’s.

Graf, who has thrown six no-hitters while at St. Olaf, was quick to praise the defense behind her and said she does not let the pressure of throwing a no-hitter get to her. “The chance to throw a no-hitter doesn’t change my approach much at all — the focus is just on finishing strong and getting the win,” Graf said.

Abby Grismer ’21, who homered in game one against Bethel, spoke after the games about the way Graf’s pitching assists the team. “Playing behind Julie Graf on the mound provides a sense of security that eases the team’s nerves, as well as extra confidence, both of which are extremely helpful on offense and defense,” Grismer said. “On Sunday, our team was great at going all out for balls both fair and foul in order to hold the no-hitter, limit the number of pitches Julie threw, and limit the attempts the opposing team’s batters got.”

Graf’s historic performance was necessary to secure the win, as Bethel’s starting pitcher Kayla Simacek allowed only one run, getting out of jams against a potent Ole offense. The Ole’s run came from a double by Katie Weisheit ’24 in the bottom of the second inning.

The no-hitter culminates an absolute dominant season from Graf, who has struck out 144 batters in 67.2 innings while posting a 1.14 ERA. She’s been the best pitcher in the MIAC, while hitting .310 at the plate.

Coming after a pandemic-shortened season, the no-hitter and two wins against Bethel were particularly powerful moments for Graf.  “Sunday was meaningful for a lot of reasons,” Graf said, “because a year after getting our season canceled we get to compete together, because we are raising the bar for how well we can play everyday, and because it brings us closer to our goals for a conference championship and beyond.”

The win for the Oles sealed an electric 5-1 week which included an intense double-header at #16 Saint Benedict. Saint Benedict (7-3 in MIAC) represented the Oles’ biggest challenge this season. After losing game one 1-0, the Oles took game two of the double-header with a definitive 5-2 victory behind another solid pitching performance from Graf and an Anne Fossum ’24 three-run home run.

At 13-3 on the season and 11-1 in MIAC play, the Oles are tied at the top of the MIAC with St. Catherine. With a great start to the season, the team aims to be competitive in the MIAC tournament and reach the national tournament.

Grismer expressed that the key to the team reaching their goals is to remain a strong all around team. “In order to regain a national ranking and succeed in the postseason, it’s going to take the entire village — both great offense and defense,” Grismer said. “With hot bats, lock down defense, and our impressive six-person pitching staff, our team has a great chance at going further than we have in the last tens of years.”

Looking at the week ahead, the Ole Softball team will square off against their Northfield rivals, the Carleton Knights, on Sat. April 21, and Gustavus on Sun. April 22. Both match-ups will be double headers at Mabel Shirely Field.

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