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Tigers more focused on opponents, not rankings

By CONOR NICHOLL

cnicholl@dailynews.net

Last weekend, second-year Fort Hays State University softball coach Erin Kinberger was upset after her team went 2-2 against Missouri Southern State University and Pittsburg State University, two .500 teams. Among other things, Kinberger and junior third baseman Danie Brinkmann were displeased the Tigers had focused too much on rankings.

"Focusing on what some other teams are doing in the conference instead of focusing on the game at hand. Like one game at a time. A 'W' against Pitt is just as good as a 'W' against (top 25) Missouri Western," Brinkmann said. "It's no extra weight unfortunately."

On Wednesday, the Tigers dropped four spots to No. 18 in NCAA Division II. However, the first release of the more important poll, the Central regional rankings, had FHSU No. 1. The top two squads in each region host four-team pods. The Tigers stand at 35-7 overall, 32-4 in in-region games.

Southeastern Oklahoma State University ranks second at 36-7, 35-7 in region, while Minnesota State-Mankato is third and University of Central Oklahoma stands fourth. One of the reasons for FHSU's top ranking is a 7-0 mark against teams in the top 10 in the regional rankings.

One more victory will set the school record for wins. The Tigers finished 35-20 in 2003.

"A lot of athletes will show up and be afraid to make a mistake," Kinberger said. "We practice day in and day out to take risks, to put it all on the line and let the chips fall where they fall. We are not doing that right now. We are not coming out here and putting everything on the line. We are hesitant."

In conference play, FHSU is 15-3, two games back of UCO. The Tigers' three conference losses have come against Northeastern State (Okla.) University, in fifth place, and Missouri Southern and Pittsburg State. The Lions are 11th in the league and PSU is ninth.

Fort Hays has four MIAA doubleheaders left before the postseason, all against teams in the mid to lower tier. On Friday, the Tigers travel to University of Central Missouri (20-18, 10-10 MIAA). On Saturday, Fort Hays plays at Southwest Baptist (Mo.) University (4-38, 0-18 MIAA). Game time is 3 p.m. Friday and noon Saturday.

"We just need to focus more in the moment," Brinkmann said.