Tiger softball wins Friday top 25 marathon

By CONOR NICHOLL

cnicholl@dailynews.net

Erin Kinberger has enjoyed a successful softball career as a player, assistant coach and now in her second year as Fort Hays State University's head coach. This season, though, has yielded traits Kinberger hasn't seen.

The Tigers have constantly fought back from deficits and found ways to win close games. On Friday, Fort Hays delivered one of the season's biggest wins in a 2-1, 12-inning win against Missouri Western State University in Game 1 at Tiger Stadium. FHSU won the second contest 11-3 in a game called in the bottom of the sixth because of the mercy rule.

"I can't say enough about how special this group is," Kinberger said. "Just the positive environment in the dugout and everyone in the dugout's desire in that exact same moment to push across is something that I have not been lucky enough to experience until now."

Fort Hays, on pace for the best season in the school's NCAA Division II history, improved to 31-5, 11-1 MIAA, while No. 24 Missouri Western dropped to 24-10, 8-4 MIAA.

The Tigers, ranked No. 18 nationally, improved to 4-1 versus ranked opponents.

As well, FHSU, coupled with Saturday's doubleheader sweep, is 15-3 in games decided by two runs or fewer and 5-1 in extra inning contests. In the three previous years, Fort Hays was 4-8 in extra inning games.

"This group, there is no quit," Kinberger said. "They play together, they win together. They find a way to win together, and I think they showed our home fans what they have been able to do all year and that's the fact that they put their heads together, they don't quit and they find a way to get a W."

Game 1 matched Western junior right-hander Jackie Bishop against FHSU senior right-hander Maddie Holub. Last season, Bishop and Holub were first team all-MIAA selections and Bishop was conference Pitcher of the Year.

On Friday, all three runs were unearned and came via the international tiebreaker. Bishop (12-4, 1.47 earned-run average) worked 11.1 innings and allowed three hits with 11 strikeouts against five walks.

Holub pitched 12 innings, allowed six hits, struck out a school record 17 batters against one walk. Holub worked in and out of trouble all game, including in the tenth inning. She threw 195 pitches, 127 of them strikes. Bishop tossed 155 pitches, 100 strikes. It marked Fort Hays' first longest game since a 5-4, 13-inning win against Colorado School of Mines on Feb. 12, 2011.

"We just have so much heart," junior outfielder Bianca Adame said. "Heart and passion. We are not going to lose and we do what we have got to do to win."

In the 10th, Missouri Western scored a run when freshman Sam Elliott tripled home junior Taylor Anding, who was on third base because of the international tiebreaker. With two outs, sophomore Tiffany Gillaspy hit a hard grounder that caromed off Holub.

As Elliott raced home, the ball bounced straight to third baseman Danie Brinkmann, who threw it across the diamond in a close play at first for the third out.

"Just mental toughness," Adame said. "You do what you have got to do. If they don't score, so you are going up to bat, you are trying to score. If you don't score, you get back out there."

In the bottom of the tenth, Adame tied the game on a double to left-center.

The left-handed hitting, slap-hitting Adame had been 0 of 3 with a sacrifice bunt. She thought Bishop was going to throw her an outside pitch. Adame received a pitch on the outside part and took it the other way for her fourth double of the season.

"I just walked up to the plate and said, 'These are the moments that every player wants to go for,'" Adame said. "I just relaxed, and I just was thinking base hit."

In the 12th, Brinkmann started the inning on second base because of the international tiebreaker. After a sacrifice bunt, freshman Jenna Lang grounded a ball past the pitcher for the game-winning run.

"Words cannot describe how pleased I am to have Jenna on the team," Kinberger said of Lang, a Thomas More Prep-Marian graduate who hadn't played softball in two years before this season. "It was a late decision for her to join our team, but it was probably one of the best decisions I have ever made."

In Game 2, FHSU kept the momentum going, while the Griffons lacked some energy. The Tigers scored three runs in the first, four in the second and two in the third for freshman Paxton Duran (13-4). Sophomore center fielder Amanda Vaupel drove in four runs.

"Once you beat a team like that, a heartbreaker in Game 1, you expect them to come out fired up and ready to come right at you in Game 2," Kinberger said. "We talked about that after Game 1. We didn't celebrate very long. We set the mentality for Game 2."