By CONOR NICHOLL
Fort Hays State University senior shortstop Kellsi Olsen delivered similar numbers in her first two seasons after she transferred from Glendale (Ariz.) Community College.
In 2012, Olsen started all 50 games and hit .230/310/331 (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage) with three homers and 13 RBIs. She struck out 32 times with 13 walks.
Last year, Olsen started all 59 contests and batted 238/270/397 with four homers and 14 RBIs. She struck out 38 times with five walks. Coupled with a solid defensive season, Olsen earned all-MIAA honorable mention honors.
Last summer, Olsen, a Wickenburg, Ariz., native, went back home. Olsen hit off a batting tee every day, and focused on staying through the ball and hitting it hard. The offseason work has translated into a strong first half of the 2014 season.
"I have gotten more confident this year than what I was last year," she said.
Olsen, batting No. 9 for the second straight spring, carries a 314/430/500 line with 17 strikeouts against 12 walks. She and sophomore second baseman Courtney Dobson (team-high .370 average) have the biggest improvements of the eight returning starters.
"Kellsi is one of our biggest leaders," sophomore ace right-hander Paxton Duran said. "She is our senior, she wants to get the job done. ... You want the best for her. I am so glad that she is finally putting her swing together and making the attack and just doing great at the plate."
On Tuesday, Olsen delivered a two-run walk-off homer in the bottom of the seventh in a 2-0 Game 1 victory against Metropolitan State College of Denver at Tiger Stadium. It was Olsen's first game-winning homer since a 7-5 home win against Pittsburg State University on April 21, 2012.
"For Kellsi, she has got a little bit of confidence, and she is riding it and that confidence is leading into success, and that just continues to build and mount and the next thing you know, she is having a lot of success," Tiger coach Erin Kinberger said.
Fort Hays (19-12) was supposed to play a home doubleheader Wednesday against Colorado Christian, but it was cancelled because of high winds.
This weekend, the Tigers, receiving votes in the NCAA Division II poll, will play host to Lincoln (Mo.) University and Lindenwood (Mo.) University in doubleheaders on Saturday and Sunday.
Start time is 11 a.m. both days.
Fort Hays has matched its losses from last year's school record 47-12 season that yielded a second place finish in the MIAA, a conference tournament championship and hosting a NCAA regional.
This spring, FHSU remains in the mix for a league crown, but have dropped some home games and contests against sub-.500 teams.
Lincoln is 3-20, 0-10 MIAA, while Lindenwood is 8-11, 3-3 MIAA. Fort Hays is tied for fourth at 8-4 in league play, but has played each of the other teams currently in the top six.
Against Metro State, FHSU finished 1 of 9 with runners in scoring position in Game 1. In the second contest, senior left fielder Bianca Adame led off the first inning with a triple but didn't score. Fort Hays was 1 of 10 in the second contest with runners in scoring position.
"Obviously, they lost their pitcher," Metro State coach Annie Van Wetzinga said of Fort Hays' All-American pitcher Maddie Holub. "That makes a big difference. I know they had a really good season last year, and I think, just watching today, it's probably -- they can't get over the hump getting that key hit. Once you lose kind of what was probably the heart of their team, a big part of the team, it's kind of tough to get over that."
In Game 1, Fort Hays struggled offensively against a Roadrunner pitching staff that had no starter with an earned-run average under 3.41.
In the seventh inning, junior center fielder Amanda Vaupel led off with a single and freshman third baseman Kylie Strand bunted her to second. On a 1-0 pitch, Olsen homered to left field off Metro State starter Aubree Maul.
"It was left a little bit too much over the plate, but again, the kid got a good bat on it, turned on it and drove it over the fence," Van Wetzinga said.
"That's her taking advantage of opportunities."
In the second contest, Olsen finished 1 of 3. Since Feb. 23, a stretch of 20 games, Olsen has raised her average 106 points.
"I just had to find it within myself and just working over the summer all the time just helped out," she said.