Rare time off for Tiger softball
By CONOR NICHOLL
By CONOR NICHOLL
Last season, University of Central Oklahoma and Fort Hays State University were the MIAA's top two softball teams. UCO collected the regular season conference title and eventual NCAA Division II national championship. FHSU won the conference tournament and was the region's No. 1 seed for the NCAA tournament.
However, Fort Hays and Central Oklahoma never matched up in the regular season last year. The first meeting was postponed. Then, FHSU had a reschedule date, but UCO declined to play.
After the scheduling snafu, the MIAA decided to give this week as open dates for teams to have makeup games in case of postponements earlier in the year.
Fort Hays State University and University of Nebraska-Kearney have played all 24 conference contests, the most among MIAA teams. Emporia State University has played just 18 conference games entering today.
In a rarity, Fort Hays has no league games to makeup -- and couldn't find any non-conference contests. The Tigers will have the week off and won't play again until they host UNK on Senior Day in an April 26 doubleheader. Then, Fort Hays plays at UNK on April 27 before the conference postseason tournament.
"It will be strange, but I think it will also be time for us to recoup mentally and physically," senior outfielder Bianca Adame said. "We will hit practice hard and get things rolling for conference tournament."
Fort Hays stands at 26-17 overall, 15-9 MIAA, percentage points behind Missouri Western State University for third place in MIAA play.
The regional rankings haven't been released and many teams from other conferences in the Central Region haven't played as many games, but the Tigers remain in the hunt for a NCAA tournament berth.
Fort Hays does have quality wins against Minot State University (twice), University of Central Missouri (twice), Minnesota-State Mankato (region-best .846 winning percentage), and Central Oklahoma. FHSU is tied for 11th in winning percentage in the Central Region, according to the NCAA rankings. Top eight from each region reach the field. The NCAA selection show is May 5.
"Right now, I think that everybody is looking at the glass half-empty, including everybody outside the fences," coach Erin Kinberger said. "At the end of the day, we are still battling for one of the top spots in our conference. If people want to judge success based on our record or whatever, we are just simply trying to finish this season as strong as possible."
Duran having strong year
Sophomore Paxton Duran, after a pair of complete games last weekend, now stands at 16-7 with a 2.79 earned-run average. She has 13 complete games with 20 games started (26 appearances).
Duran carries a 123/30 strikeout to walk rate in 133 innings and ranks near the conference leaders in virtually every statistic. Duran's win Saturday surpassed her 15-7 mark from last season. She is now tied for sixth with Emily Rockefeller for career wins in Tiger history. Her .689 winning percentage stands second all-time, only behind All-American Maddie Holub's .713.
"I think that people are afraid to play her and I think that what people are forgetting is that Paxton Duran is a sophomore, so there is still a lot of time and a lot of growth there mentally," Kinberger said. " She is doing a great job this season, and I know she is capable of being a top pitcher in our conference, so I am excited to see what she has left in the tank for this season and then coming back as a junior."
Adame among Tiger all-time greats
Adame has also moved up on the career lists. She has a .340 batting average this spring, second-best on the team, and carries a .331 career average, sixth-highest in Tiger annals.
"I am always proud of Bianca," Kinberger said. "She is a great kid, great athlete."
Adame's 26 stolen bases extends her Tiger career record to 66. Last year, she stole 40 bases, the single season and career mark. This year, her 26 steals stands second for a single season. Adame has batted leadoff nearly her entire two-year career after she transferred Seward County Community College.
"Personally, I always have room for improvement," Adame said. "There are many areas that I can improve on, but as long as I am not drastically decreasing, I am OK with the way that I am playing right now.
"Being leadoff is awesome," she added. "I think it's an awesome opportunity as well. You kind of have the chance to set the tone for your team, and getting on first, it really helps me want to get the team going. If they see that I am on, then it just makes the next batter want to get the job done. It's a domino effect after that."
Wright coming through in clutch
Senior catcher Callie Wright, long known for defense and leadership, has stepped up her offense as well, especially in clutch situations. Wright hadn't received many at-bats the last two years, but against Northwest Missouri State University two weeks ago, she drove in the game-tying run in an eventual 3-2 8-inning victory.
Last weekend, Wright homered in the eighth inning for the eventual game-winning run in a 9-5 win versus Missouri Southern State University. The next day, she homered in the ninth inning for a 6-5 win against Pittsburg State University, her first blasts since 2012.
Wright is now hitting .317 (13 of 41) with six extra base hits. After March 25, Wright carried a .188 average but has four two-hit games since.
"We have been in a position with the lineup this year where we are having to be strategic about who is in one through nine and with defensive positioning as well," Kinberger said. "Callie was giving the opportunity and she ran with it, and she has done a great job."