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Beavers softball riding hot streak into tournament

Ryan Ladika/MDN Gabi Dawyduk has been a catalyst for Minot State's offense in the month of May, going 10-for-24 with nine RBI and four runs scored. Photo from MSU's April 21 6-3 win over Northern State.

It did not make it without its fair share of struggles, but the Minot State softball squad is riding a recent hot streak right into the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference Tournament later this week.

The Beavers met their first tournament opponent, the University of Sioux Falls, earlier this season during April’s final week. Minot State was swept by the Cougars as part of a tough stretch of conference play that saw the Beavers win just one of five games leading into the regular season’s home stretch at the beginning of May.

What awaited Minot State to begin the final eight games was a date with one of the top teams in the conference, a 28-7 Winona State squad that boasted one of the most unhittable arms in the country in Jordyn Kleman.

The right-hander got the best of Minot State to begin the May 1 doubleheader, allowing only three runs in a seven-inning, complete-game effort to lead the Cougars to a 9-3 victory, dropping the Beavers to 16-19 overall.

Minot State was left with a couple of options. It could mail it in on an already uneven season to that point, or it could continue to fight and crank things up a couple of notches. The latter proved to be a good choice.

The Beavers scratched and clawed their way to a 5-3 victory in the nightcap behind 5.1 solid innings from Trinity Valentine and 1.2 hitless frames courtesy of Gabi Dawyduk. The dual-threat Dawyduk and Jazmin Karunungan also threw out multi-hit performances at the dish to lead Minot State to a split against a squad that would finish as the third-best team in the conference entering the tournament.

Minot State took care of business against a parade of lesser squads following the crucial victory, sweeping Upper Iowa and Bemidji State before splitting a double-dip against the University of Minnesota Crookston. Suddenly, the squad that sat three games under .500 10 days earlier finished in high spirits with a 22-20 record overall with wins in six of its last seven contests.

“Everyone talks about postseason as a clean slate, but there’s also a lot to be said for momentum,” head coach Nat Wagner said. “We’re playing better right now. Our defense is improving each day and I like how we’ve responded and played against some of the tougher pitchers we’ve seen over the last couple of weeks. You just want to get to the dance, but that said, having momentum going into the dance helps an awful lot, especially with confidence.”

Pivotal performances can come from anywhere over the course of the season, and despite her relative youth, Dawyduk has been a key cog in the Beavers’ recent success, especially at the plate.

The freshman out of Winnipeg, Manitoba has cranked her offensive game up to 11 in the days entering the tournament, as she has produced a mult-hit game three times since May 1, and twice has she accrued three hits in a contest in that span. In the month of May, Dawyduk has earned hits in 10 of her last 24 at-bats overall, good for a .417 average, with four runs scored, nine RBI and a pair of stolen bases.

“She’s been huge,” Wagner said of Dawyduk’s recent offensive success. “Isis Cabral is a kid who’s going to get pitched around to a degree, and that’s where Gabi is coming in with her athleticism and bat speed. She’s a potent bat. She’s been hurt a fair amount of the year, and since she’s been fully healthy and able to run, it’s made a big difference for our offense.”

The Beavers will need such production to continue, as well as an improvement in the circle, as they begin the NSIC tournament May 13, when they meet Sioux Falls for a long-awaited rematch. Across the two games April 25, the Cougars outscored Minot State 16-3. Dawyduk was the only arm of four to be credited with a scoreless outing when she pitched two-thirds of an inning in relief of Valentine in the 7-2 nightcap loss.

At the plate, Minot State amassed 15 hits and a pair of walks between the two contests but only mustered the three runs. Wagner will be looking for an uptick in hitting with runners on base, but he stressed that getting ahead in counts early and playing sound defense will be imperative to the Beavers’ success in the coming days.

“Starting with pitching, we need to throw two of the first three pitches for strikes,” he said. “I think that’s the big thing, we fall behind 2-0 or 2-1 in those first three pitches, that’s where we pay a price. We also have to make the routine plays defensively. There are times we’ll make the spectacular play and we’re doing a really good job with situational defense, it’s just making the routine plays, especially changing surface from turf to dirt. We’re getting better on dirt as we’ve been able to get outside, so I think we’re trending in a really good direction.”

Minot State’s first NSIC tournament game against Sioux Falls is pegged for May 13 in Rochester, Minnesota. First pitch is scheduled for 10 a.m.

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