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FHSU softball takes two from Rockhurst

By CONOR NICHOLL

cnicholl@dailynews.net

The Fort Hays State University softball team, ranked No. 14 in NCAA Division II, was scheduled to play at Rockhurst (Mo.) University on Friday before traveling to the University of Minnesota-Duluth tournament today and Monday. Instead, Rockhurst's field wasn't playable and the doubleheader was moved to Tiger Stadium.

After FHSU played host to a NCAA Division II Tournament regional last spring, the stadium received new grandstand bleachers.

"They are so awesome, and I think it kind of motivates the fans, too, to come out, and that's always nice," sophomore designated player Tori Beltz said. "We are excited to fill them a little bit later in the season."

FHSU started slowly, and the first contest was 0-0 after 3.5 innings. Then, head coach Erin Kinberger delivered a pep talk to her squad on the third base line before the bottom of the fourth.

The Tigers quickly scored two runs after the talk, and won Game 1, 9-0, in six innings because of the eight-run mercy rule. In Game 2, FHSU delivered a 6-4 victory.

"Got to get those first home game nerves out," Kinberger said. "Kids are excited. Got to learn how to control that excitement and be productive with it. I was talking to them about not pressing, just staying relaxed, doing their part, being them, just not trying to do too much."

Fort Hays ended last season 47-12 and No. 16 nationally after the best season in school annals. This spring, the Tigers opened outside of the rankings and didn't receive a single vote. After a 5-1 record at the Arkansas 8-State Classic last week, FHSU vaulted to a tie at No. 14 with St. Mary's (Texas), the biggest one-week jump in the polls.

"It has its ups and downs," sophomore second baseman Courtney Dobson said of the rankings. "We have to play our ball no matter -- what whether we are ranked or not ranked."

FHSU (7-1) delivered victories the same way it won last weekend: Strong in all three phases, contributions up and down the roster, and outplaying its opponent in the second half of the contest.

"No quit -- they're fighters," Kinberger said. "They are not going to walk out of here without a W, that's for sure."

Rockhurst (2-6) played the Tigers even until the bottom of the fourth in Game 1. Kinberger, bent on one knee, huddled with her players. Senior first baseman Danie Brinkmann led off the bottom of the fourth when she ripped a single off the center field wall on the fly.

"Sometimes in situations like that, they really hoped to come out and jump on them fast in front of their home crowd," Kinberger said. "Then all of a sudden, that doesn't happen, and then kids start to go a little flat-footed. So, just talking to them about staying in it, trust yourself, it's going to happen."

Beltz, moved to DP this season, crushed a first-pitch homer to deep left-center for a 2-0 lead, her first homer of the season. In the fifth, FHSU tacked on four runs on four singles and two walks against losing pitcher Bridgette Sappington.

"I know I went up to the plate with the mentality that we were going to get it done that inning, that we were going to start something," Beltz said. "I am glad that I was the person that could help that out. Danie getting on base definitely helped that out too."

Sophomore starting pitcher Paxton Duran (4-0) pitched a complete game and ended the contest with a three-run walk-off homer in the sixth to left field. It marked the second homer of Duran's career.

"Paxton is a great hitter, great pitcher," Kinberger said. "Here at Fort Hays, we have always allowed our pitchers to hit. If you win the one through nine, then you are going to be that girl, so she has done that."

In Game 2, FHSU and Rockhurst were tied 2-2 entering the bottom of the fourth. This time, Dobson doubled off the left field wall, her third double of the day.  Sophomore center fielder Amanda Vaupel delivered a sacrifice bunt. Rockhurst threw to third base and everyone was safe.

After a groundout and walk, senior shortstop Kellsi Olsen hit a sacrifice fly and freshman Samantha Villarreal, pinch-hitting for senior Bianca Adame, delivered a two-RBI single to center for a 5-2 lead. Villarreal had been 0-of-3 in her collegiate career before the hit. Vaupel added a solo homer in the sixth. Junior Kelsey Kimminau (2-1) collected the victory and senior Katlyn Kern earned her second save.

"She was the girl for the moment, and like I have told all of them, those moments are going to come up and I am going to roll with my gut, and that's who we chose in that moment," Kinberger said of Villarreal. "Really, really excited for her."