After loss, Tigers bounce back for DH split
By KLINT SPILLER
The softball soared into right field, and as the second baseman and right fielder dove to catch it, it was difficult to tell whether it was caught or in play. If it was caught, the game was over. Fort Hays State University would have lost.
But as the ball rolled on the grass, FHSU freshman first baseman Tori Beltz said the pressure immediately came off her shoulders.
Her 2-RBI walk-off single sealed a comeback victory in Game 2 against Northeastern State University on Friday at Tiger Stadium and stopped the Tigers from losing their third game in a row.
"I thought she was going to catch it," Beltz said. "She started to lay out for it, and it got me a little nervous. I'm just glad Maddie (Holub) and Kate (Kern) were running as hard as they were."
FHSU, ranked No. 11 in NCAA Division II, struggled to find its offense most of the day, losing 2-0 in eight innings in Game 1 and winning 6-5 in Game 2. Northeastern moved to 10-16 and 2-4 in the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association.
FHSU's Game 1 loss was its second straight, the first time that has happened this season.
The Tigers (23-5, 5-1 MIAA) also lost to Metropolitan State University on Wednesday. Those two games were FHSU's only losses to currently sub .500 teams as well.
"Back-to-back losses are never something you want to do, so we knew we had to break that streak," Beltz said.
The Tigers were supposed to play another doubleheader Saturday against University of Central Oklahoma, but it was postponed due to approaching storms.
On Friday, FHSU didn't really find its offense until the seventh inning of Game 2.
The Tigers had just four hits in Game 1 -- their fewest hits in 15 games when they had four against University of Mary on March 7. Then they had just three hits heading into the sixth inning of Game 2, but they got two hits in the sixth and four in the seventh to overcome Northeastern's four-run lead.
"We found (our offense) in the bottom of the seventh of Game 2, which I'll take," said FHSU head coach Erin Kinberger. "We were a little slow today in the offensive category, but to fight back like that, it shows the passion and shows what these kids are capable of and they care with everything they got."
The lack of offense in Game 1 spoiled senior Maddie Holub's solid start and contributed to her first loss of the season.
Holub (12-1) lasted eight innings. She struck out 11 batters, but surrendered four hits, three walks and two earned runs, which both came in the eighth.
"I don't think she had her absolute best day out," Kinberger said. "I think she'd tell you that, but she threw well enough that we should have won."
In Game 2, the offensive struggles continued. The Tigers scored a run in the second inning off a walk, a sacrifice bunt and a couple singles, but they ended up stranding three runners on base with one out.
In the sixth, junior third baseman Danie Brinkmann provided a catalyst, pounding a home run past the left-field wall.
It was the first home run of the day, and to start the seventh, junior shortstop Kellsi Olsen provided the other as her first hit of the day sailed over the left-field wall.
Her home run led Northeastern to switch out pitchers, sending Cayce Coleman to the dugout and Kayce Woolridge to the circle. The Tigers scored three runs off Woolridge.
"That home run was clutch from Kellsi, because (Coach Clay Davis) ended up pulling his pitcher," Kinberger said. "In my opinion, that was what took them out of it, because we had an umpire with a low zone, and that kid was throwing up in the zone the entire time she was warming up in the bullpen."
FHSU freshman pitcher Paxton Duran (9-4) threw the complete game, allowing five runs, four earned, on nine hits and two walks while striking out eight.
Northeastern's starters, Shelby Enloe and Coleman, were lower velocity pitchers with good placement.
Neither had sparkling earned-run averages. Enloe's and Coleman's ERAs now stand at 4.98 and 5.32, respectively, but against FHSU, they looked extremely good.
Enloe shut out FHSU, allowing four hits and a walk while striking out three, and Coleman gave up three runs in six innings, allowing six hits and a walk while striking out five.
Kinberger estimated their starters were throwing in the mid to low 50 miles-per-hour range, but she said that's something her squad has struggled against this year. She said Metro State's starter in Game 2 provided the same challenge.
"We were just slow to (adjust to) it. We really were," Kinberger said. "That's something we'll take from these games. We are going to hit the gym. We are going to work on that. We are going to work on that mentality of seeing it out and driving through and not allowing a pitcher with minimal speed to take games from us like that."