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FHSU in the MIAA mix

By CONOR NICHOLL
cnicholl@dailynews.net
Last Friday brought different coaching decisions from Fort Hays State University third-year head softball coach Erin Kinberger and the Missouri Western State University coaching staff. Missouri Western elected to start ace and former All-American Jackie Bishop in both games of the doubleheader in St. Joseph, Mo.
Kinberger pitched her No. 1, sophomore Paxton Duran, in the first contest. Fort Hays lost, 3-0, but both pitchers worked complete games.
In the second contest, Kinberger elected for junior left-hander Sarah Cochran over junior right-hander Kelsey Kimminau in an eventual 5-2 Tiger loss. Bishop pitched 5.1 innings for the victory and earned MIAA Pitcher of the Week honors.
“Honestly, I think it was smart on their end,” senior outfielder Bianca Adame said.
Cochran worked five outs and allowed four runs on three hits and two walks before Kimminau finished the game. Cochran has started three games this spring, 14 fewer than Kimminau.
Kimminau had struggled with the first inning of starts. Kinberger called Cochran’s performance a “decent job” and said the umpire squeezed the left-hander.
“We have had some struggles in Game 2 and Sarah has been throwing really well in practice, and it was her time to show us what she could do,” Kinberger said.
After a road split against Northwest Missouri State University last Saturday, FHSU was off until this weekend. As of midweek, Kinberger was unsure of her Game 2 starter, one of many choices Kinberger has wrestled with this season on a talented and deep team.
“We are going to go with whoever earns it in practice, whoever looks the best in that day during the warmup,” she said. “At this point in the year, they are lacking a little bit of consistency, so it’s hard as a coach to determine who is the best one for the job.”
Fort Hays stands at 23-16, 12-8 MIAA with eight regular-season games left. The Tigers play at Missouri Southern State University in a 4 p.m. start Friday and then a noon start at Pittsburg State University on Saturday. FHSU is fifth in the conference, but teams three through seven all have seven or eight league losses.
MSSU is 14-28, 6-12 MIAA, but did hand Emporia State University its first conference loss last week. PSU is 21-21, 7-11 and features Tiffany Brown, the MIAA leader with a .448 average, 21 homers and 58 RBIs.
“It’s not where we planned our season to go, but at this point, we have nowhere to go but up,” Adame said. “We are in a great spot to just rise. There is no big pressure on us right now.”
Kimminau, a first-year transfer from University of Minnesota, has battled some back issues throughout the season and has mixed some outstanding performances with rough starts.
“I think that Kelsey Kimminau has the potential to carry us in Game 2 very strong,” Kinberger said. “We are still hoping to see that pitcher again at the end of the season and definitely coming back next year hopefully healthy and ready to roll.”
Fort Hays, with virtually the entire team back from last season, has had some players shine, including sophomore second baseman Courtney Dobson (team-high .356 average) and Adame (.338 average), but some players have dropped off. Junior center fielder Amanda Vaupel carries a .242 average, but does have 12 extra base hits. As a team, FHSU is significantly worse statistically in key spots than last year’s school-record 47-12 team.
Last spring, Fort Hays hit .340 with runners in scoring position, this year it’s .300. As well, the Tigers scored a runner from third base and less than two outs 54 percent of the time in 2013. It’s 47 percent this season. Opponents have batted .272 with runners in scoring position this spring, up from .219 a year ago.
“They are pressing really hard,” Kinberger said.
“There is no doubt that they want to win as a team and as individuals. Sometimes when you press, you make mistakes and you don’t play your best game. I think especially in baseball and softball, you can’t hit and think at the same time. I think they are trying to do that, and therefore we are struggling at the plate.”