Tiger softball sharp in sweep of Pitt

Rick Peterson Jr.
Hays Daily News
FHSU's Michaelanne Nelson winds up for a pitch during Game 1 against Pittsburg State on Friday.
FHSU's Hailey Chapman releases a pitch during Game 2 against Pittsburg State.
FHSU's Lily Sale puts down a bunt against Pittsburg State.

A long-awaited return to Tiger Stadium did not disappoint for the Fort Hays State softball team. 

Pitchers Michaelanne Nelson and Hailey Chapman held Pittsburg State in check, and the Tiger bats provided plenty of run support as FHSU swept Friday's doubleheader with the Gorillas, picking up 7-1 and 5-1 wins. 

It was the Tigers' first home games since March 7 of 2020. The sweep moved FHSU to 12-12 on the season and 6-2 in the MIAA heading into Saturday's doubleheader with Missouri Southern. 

"It felt good. I was happy to be at home, playing on our home field," Nelson said. "It felt awesome.

"We counted it. It's been 391 days since being on our home field."

After being limited to three innings because of arm soreness in her last start in Emporia, Nelson continued her strong season by allowing the Gorillas just one unearned run in Game 1. 

Nelson, a senior from Perry, Okla., scattered six hits and walked just one while striking out 10.  She lowered her earned-run average to 1.55 and moved to 6-7 on the season. 

"Mikey's been solid for us all year long," FHSU coach Adrian Pilkington said. "She goes out there, she battles and she gives our team every opportunity to win. I'm definitely proud of the performances she's putting out there."

Nelson tried her best to keep the ball out of the air on a windy afternoon. 

"I just tried to have them hit ground balls, because fly balls can be really tricky for my defense, so I'm trying to give them the best opportunity to get outs and just working for ground balls," she said. 

When the ball did reach the outfield, Pilkington thought the Tigers did a good job adjusting to the wind. Left fielder Jessica Espinoza highlighted a strong defensive outing with a pair of tough catches in Game 2. 

"A couple of those plays, especially the two that Jess had in left field were just momentum stealers," Pilkington said. "Any time they had a good barrel or something where they could kind of take some momentum back, we were able to stifle that."

Chapman, a senior from Salina, labored a little bit in the circle early on in Game 2, but worked out of bases-loaded jams in both the second and third innings to keep the Gorillas off the board.

"You could tell she wasn't one hundred percent today, but she went out there and battled for us and did the little things things she needed to do to help us get the win," Pilkington said. 

Chapman gave up one run on eight hits and walked three, while striking out four. She moved to 6-4 on the season and lowered her ERA to 2.84. 

The senior tandem of Nelson and Chapman has formed a formidable 1-2 punch in the circle. 

"It's good for leadership to have seniors in the circle, and we're working for each other because we know it's our last year, so we want to go out being the best," Nelson said.

In Game 1, a Pitt State error and a hit batter loaded the bases for the Tigers in the first inning. Grace Philop drew a bases-loaded walk and Espinoza delivered an RBI single. 

The Tigers added three more runs in the third inning after an RBI double by Philop and a two-run single by Lily Sale. FHSU finished off their scoring with two runs in the fifth inning. Sale doubled and scored off a Katie Adler single before Loren Beggs brought in the Tigers' last run with a sac fly. 

In Game 2, the Tigers scored all five of their runs in the second inning. Terran Caldwell and Philop each had two-run singles in the frame. 

"I think we did a good job throughout the entire lineup," Pilkington said. "I think everybody kind of carried their weight. We didn't go up there trying to get big hits. We just went up there trying to get singles, trying to move runners, do the little things right to score the runs."