Gonzalez hits walk-off, Beavers softball wins pair of games against Golden Eagles
Alina Gonzalez and the Beavers had some work to do in their final home doubleheader of the season.
The Minot State softball team (24-19, 13-13 NSIC) left no doubt on Wednesday in the first game against Minnesota Crookston (13-37, 2-24 NSIC) at the South Hill Softball Complex. The offense, led by junior Karlee Coughlin’s three RBIs on 3-for-4 hitting, racked up nine runs, and senior pitcher Laura Mendez struck out four batters en route to a convincing 9-1 victory.
But the second game of the day was a different story, as the Beavers were forced to rally for a dramatic 13-12 win to complete the two-game sweep.
“It was difficult, but the kids got some wins,” MSU head coach Dave Kivett said. “It was impressive. The kids did a great job of adjusting to pitching and staying on task. Even when they were down, they found a way to come back. They just didn’t quit.”
With a runner on second base in the top of the opening inning, Minnesota Crookston’s Rocky Bjorge got the Beavers’ attention by hitting a line drive that zipped past Julia Suchan and bled into the outfield for an RBI single.
Still leading 1-0 in the top of the second inning, the Golden Eagles began to swing for the fences. Minnesota Crookston’s Darian Pancirov started the trend with a solo home run to left field off a pitch from freshman ace Zoya Robbins, and Mikaela Rodriguez piled it on.
With two runners on base and two outs, the junior connected on a pitch from Robbins and sent it over the fence for a three-run homer to give the Golden Eagles a commanding 5-0 lead.
The dinger signaled the end of Robbins’ day, as Kylie Patrick came in to restore order. The senior hurler got the final out on the next at-bat, giving Minot State’s offense its chance to close the gap.
Despite the daunting deficit, it was still business as usual for the Beavers.
“We obviously were down by a lot,” Gonzalez said. “But something that’s special about our team is that we don’t give up. We have so much confidence in each other…We play our game.”
After freshman Jamie Odlum got on base with a walk, Gonzalez sparked the comeback with a booming hit to left center. Odlum came all the way home, and Gonzalez reached third with ease as the Minot State dugout cheered her on.
Gonzalez stole home on the next at-bat to make it a 5-2 contest, and Maggie Mercer did the rest soon afterwards. With runners on second and third base, the freshman hit a high-flying shot into right field.
The ball soared over the outstretched glove of Minnesota Crookston’s Hannah Macias and hit the fence with a resounding thud, allowing both runners ample time to cross home plate and make it a 5-4 ballgame.
The score remained the same until Gonzalez struck again in the bottom of the third inning. The California native took on Minnesota Crookston pitcher Mikayla Jones and came out on top by launching a bullet into right-center field to bring in two runs and give the Beavers a 6-5 lead.
Minot State tacked on another two runs in the third inning thanks to a pair of RBI singles from Melissa Estrada and Suchan to claim an 8-5 edge, but the Golden Eagles didn’t back down.
Minnesota Crookston tallied seven runs in the next two innings to take a commanding 12-8 lead. Now, in the bottom of the sixth frame, the Beavers had to dig deep yet again.
With runners on first and second, Cowden stepped up to the plate. The senior delivered by hitting a ball over the heads of the Golden Eagles’ infield and dashed to second base for a double. Both runners scored, making it a 12-10 contest.
“I was just keeping it simple,” Cowden said. “I told myself, ‘If I see a strike, I’m going to hit a strike.’ I just tried to get on any way I could for the team.”
Odlum brought Cowden home with an RBI single on the next at-bat to trim the deficit to one entering the seventh inning, and the Beavers’ defense kept Minnesota Crookston from extending its lead with a quick three-and-out.
It all came down to the bottom of the seventh inning. With the bases loaded and no outs, Cowden came through once more with a blooper to left field that dropped. Suchan reached home to tie the game up at 12-12.
After the Golden Eagles got a force-out at home on the next at-bat, Gonzalez stepped up to the plate with a chance to deliver the dagger.
She didn’t disappoint. Minnesota Crookston pitcher Taylor Graven hurled a fastball in Gonzalez’s direction, and the freshman took her shot. The sound of aluminum colliding with the ball rang throughout the field, as Gonzalez made direct contact.
The ball exploded off her bat and sailed into right field, where it landed just a few feet away from the fence. Mercer crossed home plate without any trouble, giving the Beavers the 13-12 win.
Gonzalez reached second base before she decided to cut across the circle and join her teammates at home in celebration.
“(Hitting a walk-off) is a good feeling,” Gonzalez said. “Especially seeing all of my teammates out there welcoming me back in. We’re a family. That’s all that matters.”
Gonzalez finished with four RBIs and two runs on 3-for-5 hitting, while Cowden tallied three RBIs and two runs on 3-for-5 hitting. Mendez (11-11) received the win for both games inside the circle.
Minot State will finish its regular season on the road, as it has a doubleheader at Upper Iowa on Saturday that begins at 1 p.m. The Beavers will then travel to Minnesota to face Winona State on Sunday at noon for another doubleheader.
“(The wins) build momentum,” Kivett said. “Now we have a three-day road trip. If everything falls into place, hopefully we’re making the conference tournament and are playing next week.”
Justin Martinez covers Minot High School sports and Class B high school sports. Follow him on Twitter @JTheSportsDude.