A doubleheader sweep hardly could’ve come at a better time for the Fort Hays State University softball team.
The Tigers (15-26, 9-13 MIAA) entered Friday’s contests against visiting Emporia State having lost the last nine games. Five of those losses have come by two runs or less.
“We kept talking about it this whole year that it was just one thing,” senior pitcher Paxton Duran said. “Something wasn’t falling our way. It didn’t matter what it was, it was just like one hit, one play because we’ve been losing a lot of games by one run. It was kinda like, ‘When does the luck break, when is it going to fall our way?’ And today, it did. It’s an awesome feeling.”
Late in the second game, it looked as if luck had left the Tigers after a couple scoring opportunities were negated by overly aggressive base running. Emporia State went to the bottom of the sixth with a 2-0 lead.
Junior Samantha Villarreal reached on an error to open the inning before Courtney Dobson moved her to third with a double. Duran then helped her own cause with a triple to right that tied the game. Duran got caught off third on a fielder’s choice, but the Tigers rebounded in a big way.
Junior Kylie Strand put the Tigers in front with an RBI single to right before Veronica Knittig was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded. Villarreal made it 6-2 with a two-run single down the third base line. Tori Beltz scored the Tigers’ final run on a wild pitch.
Duran allowed two more runs in the Hornets’ final trip to the plate but secured the sweep with a ground out and a fly out to end the game.
The senior from Brighton, Colo., pitched all 14 innings on Friday and picked up a pair of vital wins if the Tigers are to qualify for the MIAA tournament.
“I think she just wants to make a run at it in her senior year and do everything she can to help us out,” FHSU coach Adrian Mohr said.
Villarreal, Dobson and Strand each finished with two hits in the second game of the day.
In the opener, the Tigers got a gem from Duran, while Beltz, the Tigers’ senior first baseman, provided all the offense needed in a 3-0 Tiger victory.
The Hornets (19-24, 7-9) got their first hit, a double, off the FHSU starter with one out in the fifth. Duran, however, fought back and got out of the inning with a sac bunt and a fly out.
“That was definitely a great game for her,” Mohr said. “She came out, she looked fresh, which was good because she’s been so gassed.
“That’s a really good hitting team for her to keep off balance and not give up big hits to.”
Beltz plated all of the runs in the game with a homer that cleared the wall in center in the fifth inning.
“Now is the time. If you’re going to get hot, you might as well make a run at it,” Mohr said. “I hope we can just carry that into tomorrow. We had some clutch hits today that we haven’t had in the past. Everybody seemed to step up in a fairly crucial situation.”
Duran and the Tiger defense allowed Hornet base runners to get into scoring position in both the sixth and seventh frames, but escaped both times without surrendering a run.
The senior pitcher finished the game with eight strikeouts against two walks. The Hornets managed five hits compared to eight for the home side.
“I knew that they were a good hitting team and that these were extremely important games,” Duran said.
“I was just trying to be confident for my team and just saying ‘They have my back; I have their back’ and just try to throw whatever I can. It was going my way.”
Leadoff hitter Rilee Krier joined Beltz with a two-hit game.
The Tigers are back in action for another important doubleheader on Saturday against Washburn at Tiger Stadium. The Ichabods sit just behind the Tigers in the MIAA standings with a 17-19, 7-11 record. While it may require an ice bath, something Duran dreads, she said she’s willing to go another 14 innings on Saturday, if that’s what’s required.
“I told them ‘I’ll throw until my arm can’t move anymore. I’ll do whatever I need for you girls,’ ” she said.
“I think she’s just kinda gaming up right now,” Mohr said. “I don’t know that her body is saying she can do it, but I think heart says ‘I’m definitely going.’ ”