Former Bay Port softball standout finally getting her chance
By Rich Palzewic
GREEN BAY – After playing behind upperclassmen during her first two seasons at the University of Minnesota, former Bay Port softball star Maddy Ehlke is finally getting her chance.
And the former Pirates first baseman is making the most of her collegiate opportunity.
Ehlke, a 2020 Bay Port graduate, was recruited out of high school to play at Minnesota, a Big Ten school located in Minneapolis/St. Paul.
“You have to be patient and bide your time,” Ehlke said. “I knew as an underclassman I’d have to earn my time. I figured I’d need a year or two because it was a big jump from high school to the Big Ten.”
Ehlke said while the COVID-19 pandemic afforded college athletes an extra year of eligibility, it also created problems later that year for incoming freshmen.
“This is true of my first two seasons at Minnesota — COVID affected many of the underclassmen because those players that lost (their spring 2020 season) were granted another year of eligibility,” she said. “That affected my playing time, but COVID also afforded me the time to grow into more playing time. I think it was needed and got me to where I am today.”
Ehlke, a true junior, said a big senior class at Minnesota graduated after the 2022 season, so she thought this year could be different for her — if things worked in her favor.
“Initially, I wasn’t too sure about my playing time,” she said. “I knew I wanted to play more and help the team, but some of the mechanics (of my swing) were hindering me. At the beginning of the season, I talked to my coaches and told them, ‘I’m willing to do anything — including changing my swing completely if need be — to get more playing time.’”
Ehlke said a small change in her swing has led to a big difference.
“Right away, the coaches had me try no stride (at the plate),” she said. “Honestly, the first week of not striding, I saw and hit the ball better. It felt like I had a whole new swing, and it eased up everything — I attribute this as a big factor in me getting more playing time.”
Through 45 games, Ehlke was batting .309 with 34 hits in 110 official at-bats.
She had 14 doubles, two triples and two home runs to go along with her 15 runs batted in.
The April 9 contest against Indiana University will be a game Ehlke said she will always remember.
“Indiana came into that series on a roll,” she said. “They had won 22 games in a row and then beat us on (April 7). We beat them the next day, and then on (April 9), it was a back-and-forth game. In the bottom of the sixth inning, there were two outs, and the (Indiana) pitcher intentionally walked the batter in front of me to load the bases.”
Ehlke, like most softball/baseball players, said she immediately thought the opposition “made a mistake.”
“I said to myself, ‘I got this,’” she said. “The first pitch was a ball, so I figured the second pitch she’d leave on the plate. I remember swinging and seeing the ball go into the right-center gap and getting a triple to score three runs. It’s one of those memories that gives me the chills — it probably will for a long time.”
Ehlke said her teammates were more than excited about what they witnessed.
“We got a dugout warning because my teammates came out on the field,” she laughed.
The Gophers went on to win the game, 8-5, as Ehlke drove in four runs — three on the RBI triple and another on fielder’s choice. Primarily playing first base at Bay Port, Ehlke has strictly been a designated hitter at Minnesota.
“I was fine with only hitting and not playing the field,” she said. “I haven’t practiced in the field since the fall of my freshman year. I enjoy focusing on hitting — it takes some of the pressure off.”
Ehlke said she saw plenty of hard throwers in the Fox River Classic Conference during her Bay Port days, but there are several differences at the Division I level.
“A lot of the pitchers in the Big Ten can spin it,” she said. “They also have good changeups and hide them well.”
With the Gophers traveling all over the country, Ehlke said it makes it difficult to keep up with her studies.
“It’s a lot of fun traveling with your teammates and making memories,” she said. “The hard part is being gone Thursday through Sunday every week during the season. Sometimes, we don’t get home until early Monday morning. That part takes a toll on you. If you have time on the airplane and at the airport, you have to use your time wisely to keep up with your studies.”
Bay Port days
Ehlke said she still thinks about her days in a Pirates uniform.
“Some days I miss my high school days, and other times I don’t,” she laughed. “I’m happy with where I’m at, but I do miss those days and my teammates — but, I’m grateful for the opportunities I have at Minnesota.”