MSU softball enters the NSIC Tournament as the No. 7 seed
Ask head coach Dave Kivett and he will say this season has been an improvement, but his youthful team still has a ways to go.
After back-to-back middling 25-win seasons, the Minot State softball team narrowly escaped the 2019 regular season with its best record (26-21, 15-15 NSIC) since the 2015 campaign (32-21, but 13-17 NSIC).
As such, the Beavers return to the NSIC Tournament for a third straight season this weekend (May 2-4) in Rochester, Minnesota, as the No. 7 seed. It’s the highest seed MSU has earned since being the No. 4 seed in 2013.
“In essence, this was a successful season,” Kivett said. “We have gotten better from last year to this year, even with a very, very young team. So, expectations are in line with where we want to be moving forward.”
Last year in the double-elimination NSIC Tournament, the Beavers bowed out quickly on the first day of the competition with consecutive losses to Concordia-St. Paul (14-6) and Sioux Falls (8-6).
Once again, MSU finds itself in the opening round of games (No. 7 seed vs. No. 10 seed, No. 8 seed vs. No. 9 seed) and not receiving a bye straight into the next round.
Up first is an interesting rematch with No. 10-seeded Sioux Falls at 10 a.m. this morning. Not an easy matchup by any means, as the Cougars strolled into Minot less than two weeks ago and swept the Beavers by scores of 12-0 (five innings) and 6-5.
Kiera Shwaluk made the second game relatively close with a three-run home run in the seventh inning.
“We didn’t have a good outing against Sioux Falls,” Kivett said. “I’m hoping the team has a better attitude going in there with a little bit of a redemption kind of concept and do a better job.”
Besides Shwaluk, other big bats MSU will need to rely on are in the hands of Karlee Coughlin (.414 average, 51 RBIs, five home runs) Lauren Cowden (.406 average, 35 RBIs), Maggie Mercer (.329 average, 18 RBIs) and Zoya Robbins (.333 average, 13 RBIs, four home runs).
MSU also likes to run, going 54-for-66 on stolen bases this season.
In the circle, it’s been senior pitcher Laura Mendez (3.95 ERA) and freshman Robbins (4.71 ERA). Senior Kylie Patrick and freshman Jordyn Staples have been called upon as relievers.
“Now it’s a situation where you got to win to continue,” Kivett said. “Hopefully, we can put some good innings together with our staff and continue to swing a good bat, then I think we will be OK.”
If the Beavers topple Sioux Falls for the first time this season, MSU would face No. 2-seeded Augustana (47-8, 27-3 NSIC) in the next round at approximately 2 p.m. this afternoon.
On the other hand, an opening round defeat for MSU would drop them into the loser-out side of the bracket to face the loser of No. 4 St. Cloud State and No. 5 Minnesota State. That must-win game would be played at around 4 p.m. this afternoon.
To simplify the bracket, the Beavers need at least one win today to keep their season alive.
“For the girls, I think this is an opportunity for some redemption,” Kivett said. “Another chance to do better against the teams we have lost to earlier in the season.”
Defending NSIC Tournament champions and No. 1-seeded Winona State (45-5, 30-0 NSIC) are the clear-cut favorites. The Warriors are the first team since Southwest Minnesota State in 2006 to go undefeated in conference play.
“No question in my mind, they are playing really well together,” Kivett said about Winona State, currently ranked No. 6 nationally. “But, anybody can beat anybody at these conference tournaments. Everybody has to go out and play. But, they are obviously the favorite.”
MSU wouldn’t mind turning a few heads with some upsets this weekend. It wouldn’t be that out of the ordinary either after all the bizarre late-inning rallies these Beavers have orchestrated throughout the season.
They might be young, but they haven’t backed down. To repeat what Kivett has been saying over and over again this season, “These kids have no quit in them.”
Alex Eisen covers Minot State athletics, the Minot Minotauros and high school sports. Follow him on Twitter @AEisen13.