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Holub gets help: Newcomers complement her on the mound

By CONOR NICHOLL

cnicholl@dailynews.net

Fort Hays State University senior Maddie Holub briefly thought back to last year during Monday's Tiger softball practice. In 2012, Holub, a four-year starter, finished 19-9 with a 1.62 earned-run average. She worked 195 of her team's 332 innings in a 31-19 season.

However, the team's pitching staff struggled mightily behind Holub. Kaitlyn Shattleroe finished 8-5 with a 5.01 ERA, while Abby Morrison went 4-5 with a 7.00 ERA.

This season, Holub is again delivering a dominant season, but she has help. Freshman Paxton Duran has elevated the team's pitching staff as the No. 2 starter and junior transfer Jordan Jones has thrown well in the third slot.

"We obviously struggled last year with a second pitcher, and kind of a short pitching staff," Holub said. "Paxton, she is a freshman, but she is good. She is a good freshman; she is a good pitcher. It means a lot to have that depth there, to have somebody that we can rely on other than myself to finish a game. It's really comforting. You have no idea. It's really, really comforting."

The 5-foot-5 right-handed Duran, from Brighton, Colo., represents arguably the biggest upgrade at any position for the Tigers, No. 21 in NCAA Division II at 21-3 overall. Fort Hays, which swept a road doubleheader Tuesday at Colorado Christian, is ranked in the top 25 for the first time in the program's 14-year NCAA history.

"It's really good," Duran said. "I think we complement each other really well. We work together. It's kind of like, she is the big girl and I am the little one, but we are complementing each other. I am glad I need to contribute with doing what needs to be done in order to take the 'W,' and putting my team in a position to win, so that's good knowing that I am helping out a lot."

Holub, a Thomas More Prep-Marian graduate, already has earned MIAA Pitcher of the Week honors three times, Hitter of the Week once and National Pitcher of the Week once. She is 12-0 with a 0.80 ERA, while Duran is 7-3 with a 2.11 ERA, and Jones has delivered a 2-0 record and 2.93 ERA in five appearances.

Against Colorado Christian, Holub struggled for the first time all year in Game 1. Then Duran came in, pitched well and earned her first save in the Tiger victory. In Game 2, the roles reversed. Duran struggled and Holub relieved and collected the win.

"It's been great catching Pax," junior catcher Callie Wright said. "Pax has been a freshman that you don't always see. She is really smart and really aggressive with what she needs to work on and what she wants to improve on.

"She stays really focused during the game and expects her best every single day, which you don't see out of freshmen," Wright added. "You will see some people tend to break under the pressure. But in general, our whole staff, obviously Maddie does work and then Paxton is right there to follow up, and then having Jordan having a No. 3 also, it's just been great to have a team that we can work off each other."

Jones, a 5-foot-6 right-hander from Connors State (Okla.) College, has collected several nicknames.

"Jordan, she has great work ethic, and she comes ready to pitch every single day, ready to work her butt off," Wright said. "She is also a great comic relief for our team conversations. To have someone come so focused and so determined, she has got a mean face, she has got that pitcher's glare. When you see her ready to play every single day, it's inspiring, and it's great to have her. Also, it's a teammate on the fun side, and she really pushes everyone to do their best."

Second-year coach Erin Kinberger calls Jones "poker face" because Jones doesn't talk in front of her. However, Jones recently raised her hand in a team meeting and challenged the hitters. Around the players, she exudes a fun personality.

"She just doesn't talk around coach, but she is a little spitfire," Duran said. "She has her little attitude. She is a great person to be around. She always helps me pitching. I called her my momma bear the other day, because I was struggling throwing my changeup in the game, and she helped me. She was like, 'Look, you need to do this. You can do this' and just talking to me. I was like, 'OK, you are my momma bear right now.'"

Like Holub, Duran likely could have pitched Division I. But Kinberger sold Duran on what the freshman called "a sense of family," something Duran said many other schools didn't have.

"I just remained persistent with her," Kinberger said. "I didn't take no for an answer. There is a lot of coaches who said this kid is going Division I, that kid is going to go Division I, and I said, 'Well, I want a shot,' and we just clicked. I got her out here on a visit. We spent some time together. I think that when the glove fits, you wear it, and I think that's what she did."

Duran throws an arsenal that includes a rise, drop and changeup. Before Tuesday, she has allowed more than three runs in an outing just once and has two seven-inning shutouts in 13 appearances.

"She is a difference maker," Kinberger said. "She is going to have her freshmen bumps her and there, but the same thing is, when the lights come on, she turns into the same animal Maddie does. She wants to win. She works hard, she is dedicated to the team, to the game. She is a learner of the game. Kids like that that you can reason with and explain situations, and they can get it is just a coaching dream."