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Tigers' Duran fills bigger role

By CONOR NICHOLL

cnicholl@dailynews.net

Paxton Duran was a strong No. 2 starter to first team All-American right-hander Maddie Holub on Fort Hays State University's 47-12 season last spring, the best year in school history.

Duran, a freshman right-hander, finished 15-7 with a 3.09 earned-run average in 30 appearances (25 starts) and 149.2 innings. Duran also carried a .266 batting average in 55 games.

However, Duran's numbers greatly improve if one subtracts five appearances from April 12 to 24. Duran went 1-2 with a 9.78 ERA in 19.1 innings. The rest of the season, she was 14-5 with a 2.09 ERA -- and with a strong finish and performance in the NCAA Division II tournament after the struggles.

"If you take those two weeks away, Paxton Duran had one heck of a freshman year," Tiger coach Erin Kinberger said.

Duran's numbers were better than Holub's freshman year (14-10, 3.56 ERA).

"As a freshman, I did well," Duran said. "Those two weeks I kind of lost it, but I am definitely working on my mental game a lot, and plan on that not happening."

A year later, Holub has graduated and is set to play professional softball in Italy. Duran has moved into the ace role and helped the Tigers open 5-1 at the 8-State Classic in Bentonville, Ark. last weekend.

"It's night and day," senior catcher Callie Wright said of Duran's difference from 2013 to '14. "Last year, as most freshmen do, they don't see their potential and seeing her now, we talk everyday about how excited we are to see her this season."

Duran went 3-0 with a 3.65 ERA in 15.1 innings with four appearances and two starts last week. Transfer Kelsey Kimminau filled the No. 2 slot with a 1-1 record and 2.55 ERA.

"She really hit just a little bit of a freshman bump, and that was more mental than physical," Kinberger said of Duran. "What I love about Paxton is she is aware of it, and she is not afraid to admit to it.

"An athlete who is aware and can admit it is a winner," she added. "You can really do things with athletes like that, and I can't wait to see what Paxton does this year. She is ready for the ball. She is hungry. I am excited."

Offensively, Duran went 1 of 4, but two newcomers, Rilee Krier (.500 average) and Kylie Strand (.474 average, 14 total bases) led the offense. FHSU is batting .335 this season.

This weekend, FHSU plays a doubleheader at Rockhurst (Mo.) University on Friday before the University of Minnesota-Duluth tournament with a tripleheader Sunday and two games Monday.

Two of the contests are against Minot State, who FHSU knocked out in the NCAA tournament last spring on a walk-off homer from Holub. More than anything, Duran learned composure from Holub, the Tiger school record holder in virtually every statistic.

"She was constantly the same whether we were winning by 10 runs or losing by a little bit," Duran said. "She was constantly ready, giving her all, doing what needs to be done to win the game."

Duran called her biggest improvement changing speeds. Duran carried a 2.05/1 strikeout to walk rate last season and opened with a 4/1 K/BB ratio this year.

"I didn't do a lot of that last year," Duran said. "I have worked really hard on making sure that I am coming with my changeup, my offspeed and just keep the batter guessing."