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Vaupel clutch for Tigers

By CONOR NICHOLL

cnicholl@dailynews.net

Last weekend, the Fort Hays State University softball team faced Missouri Western State University in the MIAA tournament. The game matched the league's top two pitchers in Tiger senior Maddie Holub and Missouri Western senior Jackie Bishop.

The contest remained scoreless until the seventh inning when FHSU sophomore center fielder Amanda Vaupel came to the plate with two on and one out. With a 0-1 count, Vaupel hit a three-run home run, all the runs needed in a 3-0 victory.

"I was really nervous, and my team was like, 'Vaup, you say you like pressure, so here it is,' " Vaupel said. "My first hack was huge. I overswung it. Then, I got within myself, saw the ball out, just hit it and it just happened to go over."

Vaupel, known to her team as 'Vaup,' has consistently came through during the last two years for FHSU. However, Holub, a back-to-back first team all-MIAA honoree and reigning conference Player and Pitcher of the Year, has received more attention. Last year, Vaupel finished second on the team with a .333 average and .376 on-base percentage, both numbers trailing only Holub on the Tigers.

This spring, Vaupel carries a .363 average, again second to Holub. She also stands second with 47 RBIs and a .532 slugging percentage. Vaupel has earned back-to-back second team all-MIAA honors.

"Completely underrated," second-year coach Erin Kinberger said. "She is extremely underrated. That kid has made plays that have won us ballgames, changed the mentality of our outfield. She has got tons of talent out there. She is definitely underrated."

Vaupel has helped Fort Hays, 45-10 and ranked No. 1 in the Central Region, host the first softball regional in school history this weekend at Tiger Stadium. FHSU will plays No. 8 Emporia State University (38-18) at 5:30 p.m. today.

"Vaup is just clutch," Holub said. "She comes through when we need her. She produces a lot of RBIs when we need her in big games and that is definitely what stands out the most. She will save your butt in the outfield by catching the ball diving, and she will come up with the big hits when you need to come up with the big hits."

Vaupel, from Olathe North High School in Kansas City, has started every game of her career after she took over for Sara Tani, a four-year starter.

Kinberger has worked with Vaupel in many different areas, including becoming more intense, finding the peak of the ball and not judging the ball too early. Now, Vaupel is still outgoing, but, like the rest of the Tigers, has taken on the mentality of their coach.

"I have become a lot more intense as a player," Vaupel said. "I used to just go out there, have a good time, but now winning is having a good time."

"She likes to talk," freshman pitcher/designated hitter Paxton Duran added. "She is a talker for sure. She is just one of those people that can come and just be amazing."

Vaupel said one of the most important things she has learned is always taking her first step back.

"She has got a lot of range out there, she has got a lot of confidence," Holub said. "She gets great reads off the ball, so she covers a lot of ground. She is not necessarily the fastest outfielder I have seen, but she gets to a lot more balls than those fast outfielders because she gets such great reads and she knows what angles to take. She works hard out there."

Lineup-wise, Vaupel has batted five the majority of her career.

"That's where I hit all last year, so I love hitting in the 5 hole," Vaupel said. "It's a great place to be. I do play better under pressure, so it's nice to have runners on base a lot of the time."

Vaupel, though, hasn't worried if she is underrated. Vaupel said she "didn't care" where she ranked when the all-MIAA teams were released. Kinberger read off the names and then paused. Vaupel and her teammates wanted Kinberger to tell them who earned coach of the year. Then, Kinberger said, "Oh I did." To Vaupel, that mattered more.

"I just play behind Maddie," Vaupel said. "That's really all I have ever done. I just play behind my team, and that's all that really matters."