Tigers split with Pitt State
By CONOR NICHOLL
Coach Erin Kinberger gathered her Fort Hays State University softball team in the third base dugout at Tiger Stadium following a struggling performance Saturday against Pittsburg State University. Kinberger spoke with her team for about 15 minutes after the Tigers took Game 1, 1-0, in 10 innings, and then lost Game 2, 9-6.
"A little bit of everything," Kinberger said. "It's not just one thing. It's an accumulation of wrong mentality."
The Tigers, ranked No. 14 in NCAA Division II, went 2-2 in a four-game, two-day home weekend and dropped to 35-7, 15-3 MIAA. Pittsburg State moved to 19-19, 7-11 MIAA.
"It has been really frustrating," junior third baseman Danie Brinkmann said.
"More so frustrating just because we know who we are, and we know that it is absolutely within our limits to take two from both of these teams. It's really frustrating to know that we should take those teams," Brinkmann added.
Brinkmann and Kinberger agreed FHSU has played timid and focused more on wins, losses, rankings and statistics than preparing day in and day out. In the meeting, Kinberger stressed multiple issues, including "doing the small things," "taking risks," and "not being afraid to make a mistake."
"Sometimes the polls can be added pressure to an athlete," Kinberger said. "If they get their head wrapped around it too much, this is what happens. They start being afraid of losing those paper, meaningless statistics versus thinking about how they got those statistics in the first place, and that was playing the game the way it was supposed to be played."
Fort Hays collected just one hit in the first contest, an infield single by freshman second baseman Courtney Dobson to lead off the ninth inning against Gorilla freshman Kyndel Shelburn.
The right-hander (6-7) entered the contest with a 2.68 earned-run average and a 2.08 batting average against.
Senior right-hander Maddie Holub, after two perfect games in her last two starts, worked 10 shutout innings and improved to 20-1. Holub threw 193 pitches and allowed five hits against 13 strikeouts and six walks.
"Everything seemed to be working," Pittsburg State coach Elizabeth Economon said. "She had nothing to lose. Everybody knows who Holub is. Nobody knows who Kyndel is, so at this point, she is coming out here just knowing that she has got to throw her game, and that she is going to fly under the radar because nobody is worried about her."
Shelburn struck out 12 against five walks, three by Holub, the Tigers' leading hitter. FHSU entered the contest averaging just four strikeouts a game and batting .302 as a team.
"We are going up there hesitant," Kinberger said. "We are going up with a mentality of trying to do too much. Everyone who plays baseball and softball knows, you cannot hit and think. When your feet hit the box, you have to react. That's what we train to do. It's a reaction sport in that moment, and if you are thinking, your hands slows down, and if you are thinking, the pitcher can feel it and sense it."
FHSU collected the victory in the 10th when sophomore centerfielder Amanda Vaupel started on second base because of the international tiebreaker. After a sacrifice bunt, freshman first baseman Tori Beltz hit a sacrifice fly to left field for the game-winning run.
"She had a tough rise ball, but Coach told us what adjustments we needed to make," Brinkmann said. "I think we were tense and we weren't being aggressive. If we were aggressive on the strikes that were low in the zone, then we wouldn't have had to hit the rise ball. Once we let a strike or two go by, we weren't in that aggressive sort of mindset and that leads to strikeouts."
In Game 2, freshman Paxton Duran took the loss after she worked three innings and allowed six hits and six runs (four earned).
The Tigers committed two errors in a two-run first inning and Duran misplayed a bunt in a four-run third inning.
It marked the second straight game FHSU had some defensive breakdowns behind Duran.
PSU junior centerfielder Brenna George, a Larned graduate, finished 2 of 7 with two walks, two runs scored and two stolen bases in the doubleheader. The second game tied for the Tigers' second-biggest margin of loss this year.
"Maddie is a senior, Paxton is a freshman," Brinkmann said.
"Paxton has a lot to learn. Naturally, (Paxton) is going to get more balls hit in play. That's just the way it is. It does put a little bit more pressure on us. It's just a matter of we need to pick it up and know that we are going to get more action that game."