Beavers salvage split on senior day

Monday’s games meant little to Minot State’s softball team in terms of Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference standing.

They meant everything to St. Cloud State.

The Huskies entered their final regular-season doubleheader trailing 10th-place Southwest Minnesota State – which owned the tiebreaker – by one game. To preserve its bid for a conference playoff spot, SCSU needed to sweep the Beavers on Monday afternoon.

A familiar spot for both clubs.

“It was a huge motivator, because the same thing happened last year. We were at St. Cloud, and we were in their shoes and we had to win to make it and we ended up falling short,” MSU coach Bill Triplett said. “That was a huge motivator for us today.”

And MSU got revenge.

Despite losing the opener – which resumed in the bottom of the second inning in light of Sunday’s postponement – by a 3-1 final, the Beavers responded with a gutsy 3-2 win at Herb Parker Stadium. Sophomore pinch hitter Lauren Cowden took a four-pitch, walk-off walk in the bottom of the 11th, as MSU ended its season in victory.

“I think going out on a win like this, there aren’t a lot of teams that get to win their last game,” Triplett said. “It’s a positive, and it sets the table for these kids for next year.”

With defeat, SCSU fell just shy of Northern Sun tournament qualification.

The Huskies and Mustangs both finished 12-18 in Northern Sun play, but the latter swept the former on April 9 in Marshall, Minn.

SCSU lost 12 of 16 games to close its season.

“They’re always a great team,” SCSU coach Paula U’Ren said. “They come out, they’re scrappy, they compete. They never give up, and we didn’t either, and it was a good game, I thought.”

The Huskies nearly pulled it off.

With both sides locked in a 1-all deadlock after 10 innings, SCSU’s Rebecca Harps put the Huskies in front with an RBI single.

Trailing 2-1, Triplett wasn’t nervous.

“We were sitting 2-3-4,” he said. “(Clarissa) Ramirez has been having really good at-bats, and so has Rachel (Burdette). Ashley (Hill) had a previous chance earlier and she struck out. I knew that she would be a little more keyed in and take advantage of another opportunity. I was pretty happy with we were in the lineup heading into that last inning.”

A sophomore infielder, Burdette jumpstarted the 11th with a ground-rule double over the wall left center. Then, after SCSU starting pitcher Cassie Francesconi was replaced by Megan Hedstrom, Hill blooped a single to right field, putting runners at the corners with no outs.

From there, the Beavers took their final lead without getting a single hit.

Isis Cabral and Alyssa Cornejo drew consecutive walks, as Cornejo’s plated Burdette from third. Two batters later, Cowden watched four pitches sail wide of the plate.

“Up and down our lineup I have confidence in our team,” Cornejo said. “Some days some girls don’t perform, but today, up and down, we picked each other up. I had confidence no matter who was up.”

Junior pitcher Jenn Spencer pitched a whopping 10 1/3 innings but finished without a decision. She gave up just two runs, one earned, on 11 hits and five walks. Ramirez swept in to claim victory with an unblemished 2/3-inning performance.

“We just want to keep getting better,” Triplett said. “We’ve slowly been battling and our pitching has been good lately, and we just want to set the table for next year a little bit. But knowing that they were on the edge was a motivator for us, too.”

In the opener, Cornejo went the distance for MSU from the circle.

For five innings, she kept the Huskies off the board altogether.

And the Beavers took advantage in the fourth.

After three and a half scoreless innings, MSU loaded the bases for junior outfielder Jordan Grant, who plated the game’s first run with a single to center. The bases stayed juiced for Clarissa Ramirez moments later, but her resulting fly ball to right – which produced the second out of the inning – was followed shortly another out at the plate. Rather than anticipating the catch, Cornejo had to retreat to third base for her tag-up attempt, and was subsequently gunned down by SCSU right fielder Rebecca Harps.

Minot State led 1-0 after four complete.

Cornejo preserved that advantage in the fifth inning, but the Huskies got to her in the sixth. Jessica Goerger and Alyssa Coletto both collected RBI singles, while Jaiden Lund’s pinch-hit double in the seventh opened up a 3-1 lead for SCSU.

Cornejo was tagged with her ninth loss, giving up two earned runs on eight hits over seven innings pitched.

Minot State won six of 30 Northern Sun games in 2016, and finished ahead of Minnesota Crookston in 15th place.

“We’ve been playing shorthanded with girls injured, but I’m really happy with the recruiting class that’s coming in to add to these kids,” Triplett said. “We’re excited for what we can accomplish next year.”

Joe Mellenbruch covers Minot State athletics, the Minot Minotauros and high school sports. Follow him on Twitter @Mellenbruch_MDN.