Tigers confident in pitching
By CONOR NICHOLL
Fort Hays State University senior ace right-hander Maddie Holub is arguably the best pitcher, perhaps the best overall player, in NCAA Division II. Holub is 27-2 with a 0.77 earned-run average in 209 innings and ranks second nationally in fewest hits allowed per seven innings (2.71), strikeouts (328), shutouts (13), victories and ERA.
Sometimes, softball teams ride one dominant pitcher all throughout postseason.
However, second-year coach Erin Kinberger said the Tigers have confidence in all three pitchers, Holub, freshman right-hander Paxton Duran (15-7, 3.11 ERA) and junior right-hander Jordan Jones (2-0, 2.45 ERA in 20 innings).
This weekend, Fort Hays, 45-10 overall, ranked first in the Central Region and 10th in NCAA Division II, hosts a four-team regional for the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament.
The Tigers face eighth-seeded Emporia State University (38-18) in the first round of the double-elimination tournament at 5:30 p.m. Friday at Tiger Stadium.
"I don't know that we have a distinct plan," Kinberger said.
"It's not like we are going to throw Maddie Holub until (she's done). It's not like that. We are going to put the best person in there that we think we can get the job done."
Of the four teams in the regional at FHSU -- the Tigers, Hornets, No. 4 seed University of Central Oklahoma and fifth-seeded Minot State -- each one has an ace that carries an ERA under 2.00.
However, it's the second and possibly third pitchers that could prove the difference in a close regional. Masseyratings.com, a statistical site that takes into account strength of schedule and overall resume, ranks Fort Hays No. 13 nationally, UCO No. 14, Minot State No. 18 and Emporia State No. 26.
Emporia State's senior ace Karley Schmelzer is 31-9 with a 1.72 ERA. She is the nation's leader in wins and started all seven of the Hornets' games in the MIAA tournament. This spring, Schmelzer threw 65.4 percent of her team's innings.
Last Sunday, Fort Hays won the MIAA postseason tournament when they reached Schmelzer for five fifth-inning runs en route to a 7-4 victory.
Duran pitched the first four innings, Jones threw a scoreless fifth and then Holub came back in relief for the final two innings.
"We won the conference tournament with Paxton Duran, Jordan Jones and Maddie Holub, and that's how I like it," Kinberger said. "...The difference between my program right now and what I think our opponents are dealing with, is I know any one of these kids can do it. They all want the same thing, and they all work hard for it every day."
"Where other teams are riding their No. 1s until they literally lose out of a tournament, and they are basically refusing to throw their No. 2s, that's not my mentality," she added.
Holub worked 55.4 percent of her team's innings. Holub made two appearances in one day 10 times this season, including back-to-back shutouts in the same day in the MIAA tournament last weekend.
Holub went 3-0 with a 2.02 ERA and struck out 8.35 batters per seven innings in 27.3 innings when she pitched in the second game of the same day.
When Holub threw just one game in a day, she was 24-2 with a 0.58 ERA with 11.4 strikeouts per seven innings in 181.7 innings.
For UCO, ace Kaylnn Shrock has thrown 58.3 percent of her team's innings. Minot State's ace, Mandy Greenberg, has seen some more help and has tossed 47.4 percent of the Beavers' innings.
"It's nice to get that relief," Holub said. "Emporia does ride Karley pretty much all season. It's nice to have a pitching staff that you are not scared to put in there in big games. I know I am not the only one that can get the job done. The other girls under me can also do it. That's a great feeling, because it takes a lot of stress off me and my arm."
Duran was 13-4 with a 2.01 ERA on April 5. However, she struggled in the next 19 days when she went 1-3 and saw her ERA climb to 3.18.
"I am really trying to focus on my confidence and making sure that I am as tough as I can be for the team," Duran said. "Pitcher is a pretty tough spot to be in, so just trying to be confident and be the best I can be for my team."
On April 26, Holub threw a complete game victory against Lincoln (Mo.) University in the first game of a doubleheader and then started Game 2 to help Duran's confidence.
Duran followed with three innings of scoreless relief in a victory before she worked four solid innings versus Emporia last weekend.
"I knew that with me, Jordan and Maddie throwing, they weren't going to come back and get us," Duran said. "I just knew they can't beat all three of us."