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Beavers looking to solidify foundation for upcoming series

Ryan Ladika/MDN Julia Suchan was a leading force for the Beavers' offense during the last road trip, going 7-for-14 with one RBI and two runs scored. She earned at least one hit in all four games. Pictured from Minot State's March 29 contest.

When the Minot State Beavers softball squad returns to the diamond Saturday afternoon, a return to the basics is also sorely needed.

Minot State (9-11, 16-18) will begin a four-game homestand this weekend on the heels of a 1-3 road trip through Minnesota and South Dakota. Head coach Nat Wagner noted during an April 26 press conference that the team’s struggle with the fundamentals was a leading cause for the lackluster results.

“There’s just no way around it, there were defensive miscues, and we didn’t make plays we needed to step up and make. We pitched well enough to win, and we let one get away there,” he said.

The contest Wagner referred to was the trip opener against Southwest Minnesota State. The Beavers had plated at least one run in each of the first four innings, including a three-run third, to jump out to a 6-0 lead. The Mustangs got one back in the bottom of the sixth inning, and the wheels came completely off in the bottom of the seventh.

The Mustangs recorded three consecutive singles to lead off the frame, but thanks to a fielder’s choice out at home and a strikeout, Trinity Valentine was on the brink of escaping with no damage done and sealing a comfortable 6-1 victory.

Instead, she forced in a second run via a bases-loaded walk, and allowed an RBI single to trim the Beavers’ lead to 6-3. Another knock, coupled with a Jazmin Karunungan error in center field brought the Mustangs even, and the sixth single of the inning gave Southwest Minnesota State a 7-6 walkoff win.

“It was a good response in the second game, so I was happy with that,” Wagner said of Minot State’s 3-2 victory in the nightcap. “The same with Sioux Falls, the mound was rough, wind gusting out to right 20 miles an hour, and we didn’t adjust. We got stubborn, trying to pull balls into the wind, that doesn’t work very well. The other team went oppo and hit balls deep. We just need to be smarter in our approach at the plate, and it cost us.”

The Beavers were swept in another twin-bill the following day by the University of Sioux Falls, as the Cougars outscored the Beavers 16-3 across the two games. Overall, Minot State committed five errors in the field over the course of the four games, and allowed at least five runs in a single inning once in all three losses.

Wagner attributed the scoreboard’s crooked numbers to the lack of sound defensive play, pointing to balls squeaking through the left side of the infield or dropping in front of fielders, or poor jumps from his fielders in getting to balls . The key to turning things around, he said, was a combination of pre-pitch positioning and improving fielders’ jumps on fly balls.

“It’s a chain reaction, if we hit a spot with a pitch we call, our infielders and outfielders expect the ball to be hit in a certain area, they’re going to get better jumps. It starts with hitting spots, and then pre-pitch positioning is getting better jumps.”

The Beavers will try to re-emphasize solidifying their foundation this weekend against one of the top teams in the conference. Third-place Winona State (17-5, 28-7) will make its way to the Magic City for a homestand-opening doubleheader Saturday afternoon.

The Warriors are looking to bounce back from a split of their last twin-bill against the University of Minnesota Duluth, having suffered a loss in the second contest that snapped an 11-game win streak, their longest stretch of the season since the squad opened the year with nine consecutive wins.

“Winona is loaded,” Wagner said. “They’re regionally ranked, and have been for the last four years. They lead with their pitching. Jordyn Kleman and Liz Pautz, they’re really good pitchers, so we have to be ready for that. We’ve played well against the better pitchers in conference, we’ve been ready to go, so I feel good about gameplanning.”

Indeed, Kleman and Pautz hold the top two spots on the team in ERA with marks of 1.59 in 114.2 innings and 2.80 in 85, respectively. Kleman ranks second in the conference only to Minnesota State’s Mackenzie Ward’s miniscule 0.93 ERA.

After the two-game set against the Warriors, the Beavers will square off against Upper Iowa University, a program currently trailing Minot State in the standings with a 6-16 NSIC record and 10 wins in 35 games overall this season.

“They have a freshman pitcher who’s pretty good who was out early in the year,” Wagner added. “They’re a better team than their record indicates. They’ve got a number of kids, a little bit like Southwest, who are coming into their own. So that’s a team that’s scary to me. We have to be ready to go, prepare well this week, and then play our game.”

First pitch of game one against the Warriors is scheduled for 12 p.m. from South Hill Softball Complex.

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