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Kimminau providing punch for Tiger softball





Earlier last week, Fort Hays State University junior right-hander Kelsey Kimminau was throwing to coach Erin Kinberger, a former collegiate catcher. Kimminau has been outstanding at times this spring, but has fought some struggles.

"Sometimes when you keep throwing, new problems arise with your body," Kimminau said. "I've got a bum knee and a bum back, so you have got to figure out a way to get it done."

This time, Kinberger noticed something with Kimminau's feet and hips. Kimminau said her feet were getting tangled, and she was losing velocity.

"It's more not getting my hips open, so I am throwing around myself," Kimminau said.

Kimminau tried the change and immediately felt "awesome." It paid off in her lone appearance of last weekend, in Game 2 of Saturday's senior day doubleheader at Tiger Stadium. Kimminau pitched 5.1 scoreless relief innings and helped FHSU to rally from a 4-0 deficit to win 6-4 and sweep the doubleheader against University of Nebraska-Kearney.

"She was just off of her base of her power line a little bit, and she is such a great pitcher," Kinberger said. "She knows herself, and she knows the game, and there are not a lot of pitchers who know themselves the way she can. This kid is completely capable of coaching herself. She really is. She is smart as a whip. I just pointed it out to her. I just said, 'Stop thinking and start feeling.' Just tell me what you feel."

It was the biggest deficit in an eventual victory for the Tigers this season. Twice, FHSU had rallied from 3-0 holes for wins.

"That's amazing that a pitcher can come in, do her job and we just back her up," senior outfielder Bianca Adame said.

Kimminau (10-7) covered 16 outs in just 50 pitches -- UNK starter Brittnie Kreiser needed 120 pitches for 16 outs. Kimminau allowed just one hit against two strikeouts and two walks, the fourth time this spring she has gone at least five innings and not permitted an earned run.

"She does a nice job," UNK coach Holly Carnes said.   "She has a good command of her pitches, and does a nice job of keeping it low."

On Sunday, Fort Hays lost 8-2 at UNK, while the day's second contest was cancelled because of weather.

FHSU, ranked No. 8 in the Central Region, finished the regular season 28-18, 17-9 MIAA and in fourth place heading into this week's conference tournament in Blue Springs, Mo.

The top eight teams in each region reach the NCAA Division II tournament, and the conference tournament winner receives an automatic bid. Fort Hays is the defending tournament champion. The No. 4-seeded Tigers play fifth-seeded University of Central Missouri (27-21, 14-12 MIAA) at 6 p.m. Thursday in the first round of the double elimination tournament.

At her best, Kimminau couples with sophomore right-hander Paxton Duran to form one of the league's top combinations. Kimminau finished with a 2.91 earned-run average, while Duran was 16-8 with a 3.01 ERA.

Among MIAA pitchers with at least 43 innings, Kimminau finished eighth in ERA, Duran 10th. Only No. 2-seeded and defending national champion University of Central Oklahoma had more than one pitcher in the top 11 in ERA.

"She has made a great adjustment, and I am telling you, she is a phenomenal pitcher," Kinberger said. "She throws 60-plus and when she hits the corners, there is no one that can touch her."


Beltz comes through

In Game 2 on Saturday, Kinberger stayed with sophomore designated player Tori Beltz in a key spot in the sixth inning. Beltz responded with a double down the left field line off a full count pitch to end a 0 of 24 slide. On Sunday, Beltz remained in the starting lineup as the DP.

"Easter, she went home," Kinberger said of the Rose Hill product. "I know her, and her dad hit until she was blue in the face. She is tearing it up at practice. She is definitely one of our top hitters in practice, and I just felt like (Saturday) was her day. She struggled early, and I just walked up to her and told her, 'Hey, I believe in you,' and came up with the big hit."


UNK used to scheduling format

This past weekend brought an oddity to the Tigers' final regular season games. On Saturday, Fort Hays played host to the rival Lopers in a MIAA matchup. On Sunday, the squads played in Kearney for games that counted regionally, but not in conference.

Carnes, in her 14th year as the Lopers' head coach, used to play teams back-to-back in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference. This marks UNK's second year in the MIAA, eighth for the Tigers.

"You would finally figure out their weaknesses by the second day, and you could figure out how to pitch them," Carnes said. "For me, it's not weird. For Erin, it might be a little bit weird now that (the Tigers) have been in the MIAA for awhile, so I am kind of more used to that. That's kind of the way that we always did it."