Minnesota State’s softball team are the NCAA Division-II Central Region Champions. It was a long weekend for the Minnesota State Maverick softball team, but the squad picked up the two wins they needed in order to advance to the NCAA Championships. The women traveled to Searcy, Arkansas where they took on Harding University as the Mavericks picked up a 1-0 shutout in 10 innings in game one, dropped game two with a 3-2 loss, and finished out the series with a 7-6 win to earn the Elite-Eight bid.
Game one was filled with defensive plays and low scoring but Minnesota State was able to edge out Harding with a 1-0 win in 10 innings of action. The game-winner came from Amber Kral, as she drilled a solo home run in the top of the 10th.
Senior pitcher Coley Ries (35-2) picked up the game one win, pitching all 10 innings while allowing only three hits and striking out 10.
Minnesota State’s program-best 28 wins-in-a-row came to an end in game two. Harding evened up the best-of-three series picking up a 3-2 win over Minnesota State on Friday. The Mavericks got on the board first with Jess Meidl crossing the plate to put the Mavs up 1-0 in the first inning.
Harding responded with a run in the third inning and the Mavs would not answer back until the sixth inning to earn the 2-1 edge heading into the seventh inning. Harding continued to battle to stay in the fight and picked up two runs in the seventh, including an unearned game-winning-run from Lindsey Duncan.
Ries took the game two loss which marked only the third loss of the year for the star senior. Ries pitched all seven innings while allowing four hits and striking out five.
Mother nature seemed hell-bent on making sure the drama of the rubber-match game was highly relevant. After going down 4-3 to start the game on Friday afternoon, the game was delayed until Sunday due to lightning and rain.
With the action starting on Friday, the two teams got one inning of action in. The Mavericks earned three runs in the top of the first. Harding came out in the bottom of the first ready to attack and quickly got out of the hole that Minnesota State put them in as they tallied four runs.
As action resumed on Sunday, Harding continued to build on their lead, adding runs in the third and fifth innings to go up 6-3 over Minnesota State. With their backs against the proverbial wall, the Maverick women began the comeback in the sixth inning.
The Mavericks began to chip away at the deficit, as Kral smacked an RBI single, scoring Paap. Esselman would add another RBI in the frame to bring the deficit to only one entering the final frame. Thell, a senior, would prove to come through in the clutch, as she tied the game up at six. Esselman would follow that up with an RBI double, scoring Thell and giving the Mavericks a 7-6 lead heading into the bottom of the inning.
Ries finished off the ballgame in the bottom of the seventh, pitching all seven innings while allowing nine hits, six runs, and fanning eight. Ries pitched all 24 innings over three days while Harding shuffled between two different arms.
“We are so excited to have the opportunity to play in the National Tournament. This is a dream we all had the second we stepped on campus, so to be able to achieve that goal is incredible,” said Ries. “We had a really tough region so we have a lot of confidence going into the tournament that we can [defeat] anyone if we play our game.”
Head softball coach Lori Meyer gave her take on the nail-biting weekend experienced by her Mavs.
“The fight that team 33 has is amazing…the grit that we have continued to show throughout the season has been tremendous,” Meyer said. “I am so proud of this group of young ladies as for everything they have accomplished as student-athletes. They represent MSU proudly.”
The second-seeded Mavericks begin Elite Eight action as they push towards the NCAA Championship against seventh-seeded Southern Indiana on Thursday in Salem, Virginia. The two teams met earlier this season at The Spring Games in Clermont, Fla. and Minnesota State was victorious, 2-1. First pitch is set for 3 p.m. central time.