Softball slides into 2nd in the NSIC with four games left before playoffs

The Minnesota State University, Mankato softball team completed their final regular season home series this past Tuesday against previously second placed Winona State in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference standings.

The Mavericks were able to squeak out two wins over the Warriors and surpass Winona in the NSIC standings to become the new No. 2 only behind Augustana. Game one of the Tuesday doubleheader featured two of the best pitchers in the NSIC.

Senior Mackenzie Ward of Minnesota State and senior Liz Pautz of Winona State battled it out on the mound. Together the two senior pitchers totaled one run, seven hits, and 26 strikeouts in a combined 45 batters faced. 

The difference: a triple by MSU’s sophomore Kylie Sullivan. In the bottom of the fourth inning, Mavericks’ sophomore Madi Newman got on base with a lead off single and later stole second. Sullivan got her turn at the plate and sent the ball to right field which scored Newman and proved to be the only run of the contest. 

Ward earned her 25th win of the season for her shutout performance, while Pautz collected only her fifth loss of the season. 

The teams returned to the field for game two of the doubleheader where the Mavs collected the first run of the game right away in the first inning. A defensive error by Winona helped send Newman to second base while the Mavericks’ leading batter in Ellie Tallman was able to steal home. 

The Warriors would respond in the third on a sacrifice fly but Minnesota State gained the runs right back in the fifth. Freshman Cheyenne Behrends tripled with two runners on base and was sent home when sophomore Courtney Baxter got hit by a pitch with the bases loaded.

A double play would end the Mavericks’ big inning which led the way for the Warriors to climb their way back in the top of the sixth. Winona started with a lead off single which was followed by another single.

MSU decided to change pitchers in relief of sophomore Makayla Armbruster, which in turn helped get the first out of the inning. A strikeout got the second out, but Winona was able to steal second base to advance runners to second and third. 

The Warriors took advantage, sending the ball into left center field for a double which scored the two runners on base. A full count ground out followed, which ended the Warriors’ run. Ward returned to the mound in the final inning to earn her second save of the season and clinch the doubleheader sweep.  

With the two wins the Mavericks moved into second in the NSIC standings while also collecting their 40th win of the season. The win streak is now at 14 for MSU, and they will finish out their regular season with two road series doubleheaders against UMary and Minot State this upcoming Saturday and Sunday. 

Minnesota State’s two opponents both fall in the bottom half in the NSIC standings, with UMary holding a 4-15 conference record while Minot State’s is 9-11. Despite any hiccups on the way there, the Mavericks have a good shot at entering the NSIC tournament with an 18-game winning streak and a 44-10 overall record. 

The NSIC tournament begins May 5 and goes until May 7 and will be held in Rochester, Minn. It will be a short road trip to Rochester and an even shorter turnaround if the team clinches a spot in the upcoming NCAA Division II tournament which begins May 12. 

The team would first play in the NCAA Sub Regional tournament and would work their way up to the NCAA Super Regionals before finally reaching the NCAA Championships in Denver, Colo.

Header Photo: The Minnesota State softball team is now 40-10 and has surpassed Winona State for second place in the NSIC standings. The Mavericks have four more games left in the regular season before competing in the NSIC tourney. (Maddie Behrens/The Reporter)

Write to Kole Buelow at kole.buelow@mnsu.edu.

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