The ascent of the St. Catherine softball program has followed a natural progression in the past few years.
But the pace? It’s been superhuman.
The Wildcats won eight games in 2013-14, Colleen Powers’ first year as head coach. They improved to 28 wins a season later before making their first trip to the NCAA Division III tournament in school history last season.
This year, they’re a step further. Two seasons after defeating MIAC rival St. Thomas for the first time, St. Catherine won twice against the Tommies in the NCAA super regionals. That earned the Wildcats a berth in the College World Series in Oklahoma City, where they will begin play Thursday.
It’s enough to leave even those who witnessed it and participated in it a little stunned. Junior Krista Flugstad, who pitched both games against St. Thomas in the regional and has a 1.24 ERA in 209 ⅔ innings this season, had a giddy laugh in response to every question she was asked about the team this week.
“It was shock at first,” Flugstad said of the feeling after St. Kate’s clinched the College World Series trip. “There was a mini dogpile in the infield. When we were standing in the line afterward, the shock was still in place. Then the Gatorade bath. The shock was still there.”
Players and coaches arrived in Oklahoma on Tuesday. The feeling hasn’t worn off yet.
“We’re really here. Oh my gosh,” Flugstad said by phone after a team dinner. “We’re still kind of in shock.”
Don’t mistake that, though, for feeling that they don’t belong. Powers has instilled confidence in her group, but players haven’t lost sight of the program’s less successful history.
“It’s nice to have that progression. It adds a sense of humility. These players really understand what this means,” Powers said. “These players don’t let the highs get too high or the lows get too low. That’s the group we are. It shows.”
That resiliency was tested against St. Thomas. After winning the first game of the regional 1-0, the Wildcats fell behind 3-0 in the first inning of Game 2. St. Kate’s tied the score by the third inning and then scored four times in the seventh for an 8-4 victory.
“I think the biggest driving force behind our results is chemistry, culture and character,” Powers said. “I know they’re different than hitting, pitching and base running. Those are all important, but when it comes down to it, the way my players respect the game and each other defines us.”
St. Catherine (38-12) will see if it can make one more step along the progression at 4 p.m. Thursday against Illinois Wesleyan.
“When my career started, we just wanted to help rebuild this program,” Flugstad said. “We wanted to get over .500. ... It’s been really amazing to see how far we’ve come.”