No. 15 Tigers sweep MIAA opener
By CONOR NICHOLL
Senior first baseman Danie Brinkmann and the rest of the Fort Hays State University infielders form a huddle near the circle when a pitcher enters the game. In the fifth inning of Game 2 on Sunday, Brinkmann and her teammates again watched senior closer Katlyn Kern deliver her assortment of pitches.
"I get such a kick out of it," Brinkmann said. "It's like my own personal entertainment. ... As an infield, we are just watching like 'Ooh, I wouldn't want to hit that. There is no way.' You can just see the junk moving and jumping and dropping. I absolutely love it."
Kern coaxed a double play ball to end a fifth-inning jam and eventually earned her third save of the spring, part of an all-around performance that produced 11-3 and 8-6 victories at Tiger Stadium against University of Central Missouri. The first contest ended in six innings because of the eight-run mercy rule.
"When they play like that, it definitely feels good," Tiger coach Erin Kinberger said.
Fort Hays, ranked No. 15 in NCAA Division II, delivered 19 hits in the doubleheader and moved to 12-5, 2-0 MIAA. UCM dropped to 5-7, 0-2 MIAA. FHSU was to play Southwest Baptist (Mo.) University at 1 p.m. today at Tiger Stadium.
The Jennies missed senior infielder Braylyn Bivens, a returning all-region selection who carried a .400 average in six contests. Bivens tweaked her hamstring and has missed the last three weeks.
"It's tough not having her in the lineup," Central Missouri coach Susan Anderson said.
"Because she is our senior leader, she is our leadoff."
In Game 1, FHSU fell down 3-0 entering the bottom of the second, but then scored seven runs.
Brinkmann opened the inning when she laced a double into the left-center field gap.
Brinkmann also walked in her second at-bat and collected two doubles and a pair of hard hit outs in the second contest. Overall, she drove in four runs and scored once. Brinkmann carries a .341 average with seven doubles. Afterward, she evoked a line from the movie "For Love of the game" -- "clear the mechanism" -- that has allowed her to keep her mind free.
"I kind of get within my zone," she said. "It's kind of the approach I take out there."
After a strikeout, freshman designated player Sam Villarreal had an infield single. Villarreal, in her first two career starts, finished 3 of 8 with her first Tiger homer in the second contest. She drove in three runs and had three RBIs. She took over for sophomore Tori Beltz, who had been struggling. Sophomore center fielder Amanda Vaupel also homered in Game 2, her team-high third of the year.
"Sammy goes up there and looks to hit," Kinberger said. "That's the mentality that we have been preaching a little bit through some offensive struggles. Get up there, don't overthink. Just see ball, look to hit it, and Sammy follows that protocol. You can see how maybe even just changing one kid in the lineup gets that attitude back in focus."
After a walk, a hit batter and another walk, Kinberger pinch-hit for leadoff batter Bianca Adame with sophomore Jenna Lang.
On a 1-2 pitch, Lang delivered a run-scoring single up the middle.
"I saw an opportunity," Kinberger said. "Bianca has been struggling a little bit, so Jenna Lang was the one. We kind of have that motto here that any given day, it's going to be somebody's opportunity. Whoever is the best woman for the job, they will get the opportunity."
After a forceout, the Tigers had two more walks and a two-run single from sophomore second baseman Courtney Dobson. In the sixth, senior catcher Amy Dunn ended the game with a two-run triple. Kelsey Kimminau (5-1) earned the victory with a complete game.
In the second contest, the Tigers tallied a run in the first and then five in the second when UCM errored on two routine plays. Brinkmann delivered a big hit with a two-run double.
"They are a very strong hitting team," Anderson said.
Sophomore Paxton Duran (6-3) worked the first 4.1 innings before Kern came in with two on and one out in the fifth. She caught catcher Kristen Heil out in front and ended the inning with a double play.
"It's exciting," Kern, wearing her perpetual smile, said. "I really like having the pressure on me, because I am really good at keeping calm and staying confident for my team. I am just out there having fun, and I really think that keeps it calm for everybody, and it keeps everybody else smiling."
In the sixth, Kern worked out of another jam when she dove and tagged a runner out going back to third base in a rundown. UCM tallied a run in the seventh, but FHSU senior shortstop Kellsi Olsen ended the game when she made a nice play up the middle. Olsen stretched out and touched the second base bag.
"I have full confidence in Kellsi and know that she is going to make the amazing plays like that," Kern said.