If the Minot State softball team takes care of business today and Saturday, it'll lighten its load at next week's Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference tournament by one game.
Entering today's doubleheader against No. 13 Augustana at Herb Parker Stadium, which begins at 1 p.m., the sixth-place Beavers (28-14 overall, 15-9 NSIC) own a one-game lead on the University of Mary. The top six teams receive byes in the first round of the NSIC tourney.
MSU trails Sioux Falls (28-13, 16-9) by a half-game and has an outside chance at overtaking Augustana (36-11, 19-7) for fourth place.
Minot State senior Jen Dixon owns a .383
batting average and leads the Northern Sun
Intercollegiate Conference with 12 homers.
Last year, the Beavers advanced to the championship game as the No. 4 seed.
MSU coach Bill Triplett said there is little difference between the league's top six teams.
"I just want to stay out of 7, 8, 9, 10," Triplett said. "We want to finish in the top six, that's a goal. And then (at the NSIC tournament), let the chips fall where they may. You're going to have to beat some really good teams to get into that championship like we did last year."
On Saturday, the Beavers host third-place Wayne State (32-14, 18-6). With two of the NSIC's top four teams in town this weekend, MSU's senior weekend hardly projects to be a simple tune-up for the postseason.
Led by junior pitcher Jenelle Trautmann, the Vikings have vaulted as high as No. 5 in the Division II rankings. Trautmann (22-5) boasts a 2.08 ERA. At the plate, she bats .319 and has 11 homers.
Six of Augustana's players have started each game. All six have a .319 batting average or better.
"They hit the ball up and down the lineup," Triplett said. "They don't have any weaknesses. And they play good defense and they pitch. They're a solid team."
The Beavers are 2-3 against ranked opponents this season, with all three losses coming by one run.
The Wildcats, whose six league losses have come against teams in the top five, rank first in the conference with a .969 fielding percentage.
"Wayne State's been surprising people all year," Triplett said. "They play really good defense, their fielding percentage is high. They're a very good team."
MSU's four seniors - Jen Dixon, Emily Fournier, Stacy Fournier and Katie Backes - will play their final home games, as the NSIC tournament will be held May 1-3 in Sioux Falls, S.D.
Dixon, a left fielder and pitcher, is the NSIC's reigning player of the year and preseason player of the year. This season, she is batting .383 and leads the league with 12 homers.
She'll be the toughest of the bunch to replace.
"Losing a player like Dixon, you're not only losing an all-American hitter, but you're losing a pitcher and a person with great speed," Triplett said.
Ryan Holmgren covers Minot State athletics and high school sports. Follow him on Twitter @ryanholmgren.