Tiger softball earns sweep
By CONOR NICHOLL
In her three years as Fort Hays State University softball head coach, Erin Kinberger has never had more depth and possible lineup combinations than this season. Kinberger simply can't get all of her good players into the lineup each day.
On Saturday, Kinberger rolled out a completely different look for the Tigers' doubleheader sweep against Lincoln (Mo.) University.
FHSU won the first game, 3-2, on a two-out, two-strike walk-off single in the bottom of the seventh by sophomore Paxton Duran. Fort Hays took the second contest, 7-0, at Tiger Stadium.
"They are making it really hard on me right now," Kinberger said. "I feel like I am kind of playing the lottery, and I don't like that feeling. We talked after Game 1 that we have got to come consistent mentally to the ballpark everyday, so that as a staff we can make educated and good decisions for the program."
FHSU received a pair of complete games from Duran and sophomore right-hander Kelsey Kimminau and moved to 21-12, 10-4 MIAA. Lincoln dropped to 3-22, 0-12 MIAA. Duran (12-5) pitched her fourth straight complete game, while a struggling Kimminau (8-5) had her second Tiger shutout.
"It's wonderful," Kimminau said. "It's nice to have an awesome team behind me, and they are all cheering for me, so when I am having a bad day, it's just nice when they show me that they are there for me."
Kinberger didn't start sophomore outfielder Rilee Krier or freshman third baseman Kylie Strand in either contest.
It was the first time Krier hadn't started a contest all spring. Strand had started all but two games before Saturday.
"Right now, it's such a coin flip," Kinberger said. "No coach likes to feel like they are flipping a coin on who's day it is, and I feel like they are kind of putting me that position to guess and wonder and think and hope and pray that we have picked the right ones for that day."
Kinberger played freshman Samantha Villarreal in right field. Krier carries a .324 average, third-best on the team, but has no extra base hits and a .667 on-base plus slugging percentage.
Villarreal has a .300 average, but a .791 OPS. Villarreal collected her second homer of the season and third extra base hit with a second inning blast in Game 1. She went 2 of 4 with two walks and two runs scored in the doubleheader.
"Sammy gets up there and looks to put the ball in play hard," Kinberger said.
At third base, Strand had struggled some at the plate and in the field. Sophomore Jenna Lang received her third and fourth starts at third base this year. Lang went 1 of 2 with a sacrifice in Game 1, and 2 of 3 with a walk, a run scored and RBI double in the second contest.
"She is an awesome find, and I am really proud of that kid," Kinberger said.
Lang carries a team-high .368 average among players with more than two at-bats (7 of 19) and is 5 of 7 in her last three contests.
"It really hasn't been tough at all," Lang said of playing behind Strand. "I know I struggled in the beginning of the season, and Kylie was doing her part, so she definitely deserved it in the beginning. She has been working really hard this whole time."
In Game 1, Lincoln had just two hits, but both were solo homers from first baseman Erin Sommerer. The game was tied 2-2 entering the bottom of the seventh when senior shortstop Kellsi Olsen, who had walked and scored in the fifth, drew her second walk.
Olsen, the No. 9 hitter all season, batted eighth in Game 1 and seventh in Game 2. This time, she fell down 0-2, but battled back to draw a nine-pitch walk.
"That was definitely a big swing," Lincoln coach Nicole Stacey said.
After a sacrifice and a strikeout, Duran, hitting No. 2 for the first time in her career, had struck out her first three times. This time, she had a 2-2 count when Kinberger called timeout and talked to her down the third base line. Two pitches later, Duran singled sharply to right for the game-winning hit against Jessica Cook (2-11).
"I know them like the back of my hand physically and the way they think," Kinberger said. "I do a lot of investing in that, so I just told her to settle like there is no one better than her right now."
In Game 2, FHSU had two runs in the second, fifth and sixth and one in the third and earned their first doubleheader sweep after back-to-back splits. Fort Hays will play Lindenwood (Mo.) University in a home doubleheader today. Start time is 11 a.m.
"We have been frustrated getting all of these splits all the time, and it was good to finally come out and get two wins," Lang said.