The Fort Hays State University softball team had a good start to the week in conference play on Wednesday with a doubleheader sweep of Emporia State at home. The Tigers rallied for a pair of runs in the bottom of the seventh to win the first game 2-1 before hanging on for a 4-3 win in the nightcap. FHSU improved to 11-29 overall, 7-11 in the MIAA, while ESU dropped to 14-26 overall, 5-11 in the MIAA.
Game 1: Fort Hays State 2, Emporia State 1
Emporia State pitcher Montana Mesler kept the Tigers off the scoreboard for six innings until the Tigers finally broke through with a seventh-inning rally. Fort Hays State pitcher Sierra Rodriguez did a good job matching Mesler, with her only run allowed in the sixth inning.
The teams were scoreless through five innings, both with just two hits to that point. A breakdown in communication by the Tigers led to the game's first run in the top of the sixth when Kenzie Garvin of ESU popped a ball up on the infield. With a strong crosswind, the ball drifted between shortstop and third base, but neither Tiger fielder went for the ball and it fell safely. With all infielders out of position, Garvin continued on to second base for a double. McKenna Davis followed with a single and moved up on a throw to put runners at second and third and no outs.
Candace Bollig was able to thwart one sacrifice bunt attempt, throwing the batter out at first without allowing baserunners to advance. However, Caitlin VanVleck followed with a well-placed squeeze bunt toward third base that Bollig overran on her fielding attempt. The runner was already well down the line when she tried to field the ball, so there may have been no chance to get the runner at the plate. Rodriguez buckled down to get a pop up on the infield and a swinging strikeout to strand the bases loaded.
The Tigers put together a game-winning rally in their final at bat. Bailey Boxberger led off the seventh inning with a walk, then Bailey Kennedy followed with a single to right center field. With Jeni Mohr running for Boxberger, Sara Breckbill put down a sacrifice bunt, but the Hornets chose to go for the force play at third. Mohr beat out the throw by an eyelash to create a bases loaded situation with no outs.
Veronica Knittig wasted no time in getting home the tying run with an RBI single to left center field. That left the bases loaded for Tess Gray, who grounded into a fielder's choice as the Hornet first baseman cut down the potential game-winning run at home plate. However, Mesler struggled with her command immediately after as Lily Sale drew a walk to give the Tigers a 2-1 win in walk-off fashion.
Rodriguez finished with five hits and a walk allowed to go with four strikeouts. She picked up her sixth win of the season in the circle. Mesler also had a complete game in 6.1 innings of work. She allowed the two runs on four hits and three walks.
Game 2: Fort Hays State 4, Emporia State 3
Grace Philop was the difference for the Tigers in game two, putting the Tigers ahead twice with her 3-for-4 performance at the plate and three RBI. She picked up all of her RBIs in clutch, two-out situations.
Emporia State opened the scoring with a run in the top of the first, but Fort Hays State matched it with a run in the bottom half of the inning. Three singles loaded the bases before Bailey Boxberger drew a walk to force in a run.
In the second inning, Philop pulled a ball into right field for a single that scored runners from second and third, putting the Tigers up 3-1. After Emporia State tied the game with a two-out, two-RBI single in the fourth, Philop answered in the bottom half of the inning with a screaming grounder down the left field line that glanced the third base bag on the way by and plated what turned into the game-winning run.
Hailey Chapman settled in over the final three innings for a complete game win. Just two of her 10 hits allowed occurred during the final three innings. She allowed a walk and struck out three, picking up her fourth win of the season.
Destiny Ojigoh took the loss for Emporia State, allowing all four runs in a complete game effort. She allowed 11 hits and three walks to the Tigers, moving to 4-6 on the season.