Tigers' Holub throws perfect game
By CONOR NICHOLL
A fan walked up to Fort Hays State University softball coach Erin Kinberger and her husband, Billy, after Saturday's doubleheader at Tiger Stadium. He said, "Maddie is awesome." Then, the fan paused momentarily and said, "They all are."
Coach Kinberger agreed and said, "That's true, too."
The conversation personified another strong day for the Tigers, ranked No. 18 in NCAA Division II. Holub enjoyed the first perfect game in her career and Tiger history in a 1-0 victory in Game 1.
Then FHSU enjoyed key performances from multiple players, including some reserves, in a 4-3 eight-inning victory in Game 2 against Northwest Missouri State University. Holub drove in the game-winning run with a single.
"Every pitcher guns for it," Holub said of a perfect game. "It's hard to achieve. It's hard to not walk somebody or hit somebody or give up hits even at this level. There are some good sticks in this conference. They are a great hitting team. It feels good to be able to sit them down one by one."
Holub, who also pitched two relief innings in the second contest and earned the win, improved to 18-1 and dropped her earned-run average to 0.72. On Friday, she tossed 195 pitches in a 12-inning victory against Missouri Western State University. On Saturday, she worked nine innings without allowing a hit. FHSU improved to 33-5, 13-1 MIAA, while Northwest Missouri dropped to 19-11, 7-7 MIAA. Fort Hays bumped its school record winning streak to 11 games.
My arm is "extremely tired, but when that comes into play, it's all about heart at that point," Holub said. "I wanted to win it for my team. I didn't want to give up, so whether I was tired or not, I was going to do it."
Holub, top 11 nationally in wins, strikeouts per seven innings and ERA, collected her third complete game no-hitter.
"We just go at every batter like we do every team," junior catcher Callie Wright said. "We go ready to face anyone. Nothing is different. She came ready to play, ready to pitch."
She struck out 17, tying her school record set Friday, and threw 95 pitches (63 strikes).
"Every pitcher wants a perfect game," Holub said. "It's kind of like a glory thing for a pitcher, so in the back of my mind, I have always wanted it. For me, the main concern is getting the wins for my team. If I give up a hit or two or get people on base, as long as we win, we win, but it's icing on the cake to get a perfect game, for sure."
The other four outs on two bunts that resulted in foul popups caught by Wright, a foul pop to junior third baseman Danie Brinkmann and a ground ball that straddled the first base foul line before it rolled fair just before the bag. Freshman first baseman Tori Beltz fielded the ball for the out.
"She just moved it well," Northwest Missouri coach Ryan Anderson said. "We chased bad pitches and didn't swing at good ones. A lot of consistency. She doesn't miss big, and so she keeps hitting spots where they need to be hit."
Holub struck out the first six batters and nine of the first 10. She drove in the game's only run when freshman Courtney Dobson doubled to right-center with one out in the fourth. Holub followed with a double down the third base line.
Holub and Wright started to think about the perfect game as the contest moved along.
"It's hard not to psych yourself out, because like they say, you jinx it if you say something or if you think about it, but it's in the back of your mind and it's hard to push it back," Holub said. "I guess I did."
In the seventh, Holub coaxed the first out on a foul bunt and then struck out the second batter. Holub worked a 3-2 count on second baseman Hailee Hendricks. Before the game's final pitch, Wright walked out to the mound and asked Holub what pitch she wanted to throw. Holub said rise ball. The right-hander threw it and Hendricks swung and missed to end a contest that took just over 66 minutes.
Kinberger, wearing a big smile, ran out of the dugout and embraced Holub in a hug midway down the third base line.
"Phenomenal," Kinberger said. "It was just a moment that I don't know if I will ever experience again. I don't know if some of these girls will ever experience that again. That's just a once in a lifetime opportunity and I just was really happy to be a part of it."
In the second game, FHSU trailed 2-0, but tied the game with two runs in the bottom of the fifth on a single by Holub and a double from Brinkmann. Northwest Missouri scored a run in the sixth and the Tigers tied the game in the bottom of the inning.
Beltz led off with a walk, and Wright pinch-ran. With two outs, Wright stole second, her second stolen base of the year. She scored on a base hit from junior Bianca Adame.
"Sometimes when your heart wants something so bad, your body just does it," Wright said. "We knew we needed that run to stay in the game, so I am not known as a fast person, but when I want to get somewhere that bad, I can get there. That's how we all play. We all play with that desire. So when you have that desire, you can really pull through."
In the eighth, freshman Jenna Lang, who entered the game at third base earlier when junior Kellsi Olsen fouled a ball off her face, made a diving catch on a bunt in foul territory. In the bottom of the inning, junior Jordan Jones delivered a key pinch single - her first hit as a Tiger.
"She has been working really hard at practice and coming around on her stick really well," Kinberger said. "...My gut called her name out, so I went with it."
Junior Amy Dunn pinch-ran and later scored the game-winning run on Holub's bases loaded, two-out single off the third baseman's glove.
"We have been stressing that all year," Kinberger said. "The time is going to come when everybody is going to have their opportunity.