The Fort Hays State softball team did everything in its power to keep their MIAA Tournament hopes alive in the final conference games of the season on Saturday.
Unfortunately for the Tigers, they didn’t get enough help around the league to support their cause.
Despite sweeping Nebraska-Kearney with dominant 9-1 and 8-0 wins at Tiger Stadium, the Tigers finished a game outside of the conference tournament picture.
The Tigers (24-23, 13-13 MIAA) were ninth in the final MIAA standings, with the top eight qualifying for the tournament. Lindenwood, Northeastern State, Pittsburg State and Emporia State all went 14-12 in conference play to make up the last four spots of the tournament.
FHSU will close out the regular season on Sunday at Nebraska-Kearney in a pair of non-conference games.
Even though the Tigers came up short in their pursuit of the MIAA Tournament, FHSU coach Adrian Pilkington said Saturday’s performances could bode well for the future of the team. Fort Hays doesn't have a senior on its roster.
“I think the thing for the kids is they’ve got to realize how they showed up — whether that was an internal focus or just their presence — and if they can bring that kind of presence every single game, we’re going to be really tough to beat,” said Pilkington, who notched career win No. 100 with the sweep. “We talk a lot about the growing and maturing that this group has had to do.
“I know it didn’t end perfectly the way we wanted it, but these kids really fought hard and battled for everything single thing that they got all year. We’ve made really nice strides in the program.”
The Tigers struck early in game one with Sara Breckbill putting FHSU on the board in the first inning with a double and Grace Philop adding an RBI single. The Tigers pushed the lead to 4-1 in the second on Terran Caldwell’s double and Allison Jurgensen’s single.
Elise Capra had a solo home run in the fifth and the Tigers forced the run-rule in the sixth after a two-run double from Bailey Boxberger, an RBI double from Capra and an RBI single from Lily Sale.
The Tigers plated three runs in the second inning of game two, getting an RBI single from Adler and a two-run double from Jurgensen. FHSU again forced the run rule in the sixth, scoring six runs in the frame. Sale got the big inning started with an RBI triple and scored on a throwing error. Caldwell had three hits in the nightcap.
“We were squaring up some balls and finding some holes,” Pilkington said. “We kind of worked on our approach of just putting hard balls on the ground and lining them out so that the wind didn’t affect us. We had a good game plan going into the last game and they kind of just ran with it.”
Tiger leadoff hitter Katie Adler went 4 of 4 at the plate in the first game while Breckbill collected three hits.
Michaelanne Nelson earned the win, allowing three hits and three walks while striking out four in six innings.
Hailey Chapman tossed a six-inning shutout in the second game, giving up five hits without a walk while striking out eight.
“I think she had a plan and just went out there and stayed loose,” Pilkington said of Chapman. “She executed her pitches like she needed to.”
Nebraska-Kearney dropped to 18-24 overall and 12-14 in the MIAA.