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Tiger softball sweeps Panhandle

By NICK McQUEEN

nmcqueen@dailynews.net

The last time the Fort Hays State University softball team suffered a loss, the Tigers fell victim to something that has been one of few weaknesses --  facing slow pitching.

Tuesday afternoon at Tiger Stadium, Fort Hays encountered the same problem in Game 1 against a struggling Oklahoma Panhandle State University team and freshman Brittany Scruggs. It nearly cost the Tigers.

Fort Hays, ranked 18th in NCAA Division II, scattered seven hits in the opener, but it wasn't until sophomore Amanda Vaupel and junior Kellsi Olsen came through in the seventh that the Tigers felt they had figured things out.

The result was a 2-1 walk-off win in the opener. Facing a faster hurler in the nightcap, the Tigers exploded for a 9-1 (5 innings) run-rule victory to move to 29-5.

"We just keep struggling against (the slow pitching),"  Tiger second-year head coach Erin Kinberger said. "Again today, we practiced it, and we're still working on it.

"Game 1, we just saw a kid that threw 55 and they're used to kids that are throwing in the 60s."

Olsen and Vaupel had two hits each in the game, their two biggest in the seventh. Not that defeating 4-34 Panhandle was a big win, but it could have been a devastating loss, especially with senior ace Maddie Holub throwing a complete game to move to 15-1.

"It's hard to adjust,"  said Holub. "We've been having difficulties making that adjustment. It's something we've been working on in practice.

"We have a little ways to go before we make the full adjustment, but we are coming around."

En route to the victory, Holub, the reigning MIAA Pitcher of the Week, did record her 800th career strikeout, and finished with 14. Her seventh, which came in the third inning on a failed check swing, pushed her to 800.

Then, in the seventh, Vaupel and Olsen put the finishing touches on the win. Vaupel singled up the middle to lead off the inning and was moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by freshman Jenna Lang. With two outs, Olsen sent a single to short right field for the walk-off win.

"Vaup got us started," Kinberger said. "It's hard sometimes for kids to get up there and be a generator.

"She generated and got on, and then Kelsi comes up with the walk-off,"  the coach added. "That's something this team is known to do."

Holub allowed three hits and one earned run. She had 14 strikeouts with one walk.

In the nightcap, Holub and the Tigers wasted little time. Fort Hays took a 3-0 lead in the first, then blew up for six runs in the fourth with home runs by Holub and Vaupel. Holub drove in three, and Vaupel two. The home run by Holub was her 14th of the season, a new Tiger single-season record.

"I don't know (what's next)," said Holub, who continues to set numerous records for the Tigers. "I'm just going to keep going, see what I can grab on the way up."

Holub was 2 for 3 in the nightcap with three RBIs, and Vaupel drove in three with a pair of hits. Junior Danie Brinkmann added two hits, as did junior Bianca Adame in the leadoff spot. Freshman Paxton Duran picked up the win to move to 12-4. She gave up three hits and one unearned run with three strikeouts and two walks in four innings.

Tied with University of Central Oklahoma for the MIAA lead at 9-1, the Tigers have two key home doubleheaders this weekend. Friday, Fort Hays faces Missouri Western University in a 2 p.m. start at Tiger Stadium, and then hosts Northwest Missouri State University in a noon start Saturday. The teams sit third (8-2) and fifth (6-4) in the MIAA, respectively.

"Mo. West and Northwest, both great teams and both at the top of our conference,"  Holub said. "It's a big weekend -- got to play our game and take them down."

Fort Hays, on a seven-game winning streak, hasn't loss since a 2-0 8-inning setback at home to Northeastern (Okla.) State University.

This weekend's doubleheaders are part of a string of seven straight home dates.

"It's a very big weekend," Kinberger said. "They are both on a little bit of a roll and we're all packed together at the top.

"We were lucky to get these games in today,"  she added. "We have a couple days now to practice and get a game plan together on how we're going to take them down."

Notes

... Holub was named the Pitcher of the Week in the MIAA for the fourth time this season. That makes five times the senior has earned an MIAA weekly honor. She also was named Hitter of the Week earlier in the year. ...  Adame also now owns a program record. During the weekend action, Adame stole her 17th base of the season to top the record books. She got her 18th in Tuesday's action, but was caught stealing for the first time in the doubleheader. She is 18 of 19 on attempts. ...  Lang continues to see more playing time in the Tiger offense, normally used as a DH off the bench. She is batting .400 in 10 at-bats.