MSU softball falls short of comeback, drops doubleheader to Sioux Falls
Kiera Shwaluk and company made sure they went down swinging.
With a full count, two runners on base and two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning, the freshman for the Minot State softball team awaited a pitch from Sioux Fall’s Kaitlyn Van Der Zwaag.
Although the Cougars had already won the first game of Friday’s doubleheader against the Beavers at the South Hill Softball Complex by a convincing score of 12-0, it was Minot State who came out with some intensity to start the second contest.
Maggie Mercer provided the spark in the bottom of the first inning. With Shwaluk on second base, the freshman got a pitch she liked and didn’t hesitate to send it over the heads of Sioux Fall’s infield for an RBI triple.
“That first game was kind of rough, so we decided to come out and do a better job in the second game,” Mercer said. “I was just looking for a good pitch, and coach said to drive something hard… My at-bat was to move (Shwaluk), so that’s all my focus was on.”
Mercer reached home on the next at-bat to make it a 2-0 ballgame, but Sioux Falls responded. The Cougars scored five runs in the next inning and ultimately took a 6-2 lead heading into the bottom of the seventh frame.
That lead proved to be enough for Sioux Falls to earn a 6-5 win and walk out of Minot with a pair of victories, but not before Shwaluk gave the Cougars something for the road.
Needing a strike to get the last out, Van Der Zwaag sent a fastball into the top of the strike zone. Shwaluk took her shot.
The freshman connected on the pitch and sent a deep bomb to right field. Sioux Fall’s outfield watched helplessly as it soared over the fence for a three-run homer to make it a 6-5 contest.
Shwaluk’s family, who made the 250-mile trip from Portage La Prairie, Manitoba, to see her play, cheered the freshman on as she rounded the bases and celebrated with her teammates at home plate.
“(Having family at games) is kind of a rare thing,” Shwaluk said. “This is the second time they’ve been here all year, but they usually watch online. They’re big fans. (Hitting the home run) was really exciting. I obviously didn’t want to be the last out of the game, so I just was looking to hit anything that was in my zone and hit it hard.”
With newfound life, the Beavers desperately tried to get one more run. Mercer stepped up to the plate next, battled through a full count, and got rewarded with a walk.
But Van Der Zwaag finally put an end to the madness on the next at-bat as she forced freshman Jamie Odlum to ground out for the 6-5 win.
“We don’t have a team that quits,” MSU head coach Dave Kivett said. “That’s one of the things were we do give the kids props…We just have to find a way to keep ourselves in range so we can be a little bit more relaxed.”
Shwaluk finished with three RBIs and two runs on 2-for-4 hitting in the losing effort, while Mercer recorded an RBI and a run on 1-for-3 hitting. Freshman pitcher Zoya Robbins struck out six batters, allowed 10 hits and gave up four runs in six innings.
Despite falling short of an epic comeback, the late surge provides the Beavers with some momentum as they face a quick turnaround. Minot State will host Southwest Minnesota State today for a doubleheader at the South Hill Softball Complex. First pitch is scheduled for noon.
“(The late run) definitely helps our momentum,” Shwaluk said. “We weren’t having very much success for the second half of that game, so it was important to get that little bit of fuel in us. Hopefully we can carry that over and just remember that feeling.”
Justin Martinez covers Minot High School sports and Class B high school sports. Follow him on Twitter @JTheSportsDude.