Time to break out of the bubble

Minot State softball splits doubleheader in last indoor home games

Minot State freshman Haley Hernandez stands in the batter's box Sunday against Minnesota Crookston inside the air-supported dome at Herb Parker Stadium in Minot. Alex Eisen/MDN

Foul balls off the roof and constantly having to adjust the pitching mat. Just two things the Minot State softball team will no longer have to worry about after closing out its first use of the air-supported dome at Herb Parker Stadium with a doubleheader split Sunday in the Bubble Invitational.

MSU (12-4 overall) toppled conference foe Minnesota Crookston, 5-2, in a nonconference contest in Game 1 and then lost for the second time in two days to NAIA opponent Carroll College from Helena, Montana. The final score in Game 2 was 6-2.

Carroll College is the only team to beat the Beavers in the bubble this season, as MSU went 10-2 in its new early season home venue.

“The experience in the bubble is phenomenal,” MSU first-year coach Dave Kivett said. “Who would have thought six months ago, or even a year ago, that we would be playing home games in February here at Minot State. Who would have thought? What an opportunity for us to get good quality games in as we are getting ready to go on a road trip and then get ready for conference. It’s great for us.”

Sophomore outfielder Skyla Neubauer added: “It was definitely a learning experience. The rules changed some… But, it’s really cool we have this facility to play in in February when there is snow outside. It’s awesome we can get these games in because last year we weren’t able to get any games in.”

Alex Eisen/MDN MSU third baseman Camille Greene (5) holds the ball after a Minnesota Crookston runner slides in safely in the first game played Sunday inside the air-supported dome at Herb Parker Stadium.

Playing softball indoors was a unique challenge at first, but the Beavers and their opponents adapted accordingly. The biggest change being for balls that hit the roof. A foul ball off the bat and into the bubble remains a foul ball. While a ball put in play that touches the ceiling becomes a foul ball, unless it’s caught for an out.

“I think they have handled it great,” Kivett said about playing in the bubble. “I’ve asked all the teams to give me feedback on it — other than the few minor dome rules, and those rules aren’t new. I just asked a couple different schools, St. Cloud and a few others, what they use and they sent me their rules. And we have kind of adopted what they use — the teams that have come in have had no problems with it. They love being able to play at this time of the year.”

Minot State was efficient Sunday in Game 1 with five runs on six hits. Ashley Hill got the offense going in the bottom of the first inning with a first-pitch swinging RBI double down the left field line.

Crookston (3-7) responded with a bases loaded RBI single by Gabriel Antolak that was hit too sharply for shortstop Kyla Larson to handle.

Another first-pitch swinging RBI double, this time by catcher Tori Zimmermann, gave the Beavers the lead again at 2-1 in the third inning. But, an error in center field allowed Antolak to reach base again and bring in the tying run in the top of the fourth.

Following a wild pitch to score Larson in the ensuing bottom half, a backhanded running catch by MSU center fielder Lauren Cowden saved a run in the fifth inning. An RBI single by Larson and RBI double by Camille Greene in the sixth pushed the final score to 5-2.

Crookston did bring what would have been the tying run to plate after back-to-back two-out singles in the seventh, but pitcher Kylie Patrick struck out Maggie Morales looking at a 3-2 pitch. Patrick had relieved MSU’s only other pitcher, Laura Mendez, after two innings of work.

“We just stayed up and stuck together all the way through the game,” Larson said. “When certain teammates were feeling down, we always have another teammate to pick them up. So, everybody understands their role on the team.”

Just like in Game 1, Hill got MSU on the scoreboard first in Game 2 against Carroll College. A sacrifice fly to center brought in Zimmermann.

The Fighting Saints (7-4) tied the game in the second inning by fooling the Beavers on a double steal with a runner taking off from first base and then having Tianna Sell jog home from third base after the throw over to second base.

Things started to heat up and get increasingly more intense, from Kivett adamantly arguing that Crookston was making contact with the ball outside of the batter’s box to Golden Eagles’ Allison Bayer slamming her bat to the turf after getting drilled in the helmet by a pitch to CC coach Aaron Jackson expressing his displeasure for an obstruction call that wasn’t called on a play at the plate.

With the score still tied at 1-1 heading to the fifth, Carroll’s Kendall Mooney broke the deadlock with a two-out RBI single. Sell stepped in as the next batter and broke the game open with a three-run home run on a 0-2 pitch. The high arcing blast narrowly avoided scraping the ceiling.

Sell went 3-for-3 in the contest with three RBIs and two runs.

The Beavers pulled a consolation run back in the sixth on an RBI groundout by Larson. However, Brittany Hogan got that run back for Carroll with an RBI single in the bottom half.

It was only fitting that the final out this season in the bubble was a pop up that hit the roof in fair territory and was hauled in with a diving catch being made by Carroll’s shortstop Brittany Smith.

Neubauer was the only Beaver in their second game with multiple hits, as she went 2-for-3 with a double.

“That’s the fastest pitching we have faced all season so far,” Neubauer said about Carroll’s starting pitcher Allison Williams. “The first game (on Saturday against Carroll) we came in not expecting her to be that fast. Me personally in the box, I was like, ‘Whoa, I didn’t expect this.’ But, then as we got to see her, we started hitting her more. We hit her a lot better today than yesterday, but we were just hitting the ball at people.”

Williams threw a complete game on 103 pitches to move to 4-1 on the season, while Patrick (8-2) also went the distance for MSU on 94 pitches.

The Beavers are back in action next month with the Hy-Vee Classic in St. Joseph, Missouri, from March 16-18. Conference play begins March 24 with a doubleheader against Northern State at the newly renovated South Hill Softball Complex in Minot.

Alex Eisen covers Minot High School, Minot State athletics and high school sports. Follow him on Twitter @AEisen13.