FREMONT, Neb. – No games in 2019 have been as important for the Midland University softball team as Thursday afternoon’s doubleheader with Morningside, and the Warriors rose to the challenge by securing a sweep to retake the top spot in the GPAC standings.
The No. 20 Warriors (23-7, 13-3 GPAC) had split three straight doubleheaders with conference foes entering Thursday, but earned the much-need sweep of the Mustangs (21-8, 14-4 GPAC) with a 6-2 win in game one and a dramatic 8-7 walk-off win in extra innings in game two.
“It was fun to watch the girls really step up and compete, both mentally and physically, for two full games,” said Midland head coach Mike Heard. “Our at bats were competitive and our mental focus was pretty consistent.”
After the Mustangs tied the game with two runs in the top of the seventh inning of game two, the Warriors walked if off in the eighth as Alex Van Der Werf led off the inning with a double and Jamie Phares, the ninth hitter in the order, lined a base hit down the left field line to conclude a nerve-racking second game.
The sweep allowed Midland to jump back in front of Morningside in the GPAC standings for the number one spot, and it’s also the second time that the Warriors have won via walk-off this week as Michaela Jackson‘s pinch-hit walk-off home run secured a game two win over Concordia on Tuesday.
Senior pitcher Jaylee Hinrichs secured both wins in the important series as she pitched a complete game in game one and tossed seven innings of relief in game two. In total, Hinrichs spent 14 innings in the circle on Thursday and allowed just three earned runs and zero walks, all while striking out an astounding 32 Morningside hitters.
“I thought Jaylee pitched as well as I’ve seen her this year,” Heard said.
Hinrichs cruised to the complete-game win in game one as the Warriors gave her an early lead to work with as Katlin Anders doubled and scored on a wild pitch in the first inning.
The game remained scoreless until the fifth inning when Morningside tied the game on a ground-rule double from Carson Cameron that scored McKenna Becker, who reached base on an error.
Morningside manufactured another run in the sixth inning, but again, the Warriors got them right back with two more runs in the bottom half, this time on RBI hits from Andrea Cespedes and Anders.
Hinrichs struck out the side in the seventh as the Warriors captured game one.
Game two began as a high-scoring, back-and-forth contest as Morningside quickly jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the top of the first with three hits off of Midland starter Hailee Fliam. All three runs would be unearned after a costly error that would have ended the inning for the Warriors.
Instead of getting down, the Warriors responded yet again with a five-spot in the bottom of the first inning. Brazil highlighted the inning with a sky-high three-run home run to right field that gave Midland the lead.
Hinrichs relieved Fliam in the second inning after a walk and a base hit and managed to leave both runners stranded.
In the fourth inning, a two-run home run for Athow gave Hinrichs and the Warriors some insurance with a 7-3 lead, but this time it was the Mustangs that refused to roll over and quit. In the sixth inning, Josie Baxter lined a two-run home run to right field to cut the deficit in half and set up a dramatic seventh inning.
With two runners on base and nobody out, the Mustangs ran a perfect delayed steal that caught Midland complete off guard. As throws went around the diamond, Cameron stole third and then trotted home as another throw went toward second base where Lexie Stolen slid in safely with a steal. The play worked and it was 7-6 Midland.
Later in the inning, Alex Nixon hit a ground-rule double to right field as Stolen scored to tie the game at 7-7.
All momentum seemed to be shifting in favor of the Mustangs after a 1-2-3 inning for the Warriors, but Hinrichs struck out the side again in the top of the eighth inning to set up the walk-off win.
Van Der Werf’s leadoff double was just her fifth of the year and her first since March 16 versus Robert Morris. The timely hit led to Phares’ walk-off base hit and an 8-7 victory.
After a couple of narrow and disappointing losses in the last week, the sweep is reassurance for the Warriors that they have the ability to beat anybody at any time, but it all comes down to their focus and effort on the diamond.
“Now I’d like us to continue to build on that through the finish of the season,” Heard said.
The sweep puts Midland back in the driver’s seat in the GPAC standings as the team controls its own destiny from here on out. The Warriors have three more doubleheaders left in the regular season with trips to Doane and Mount Marty before the regular season finale at home versus Northwestern.
First pitch of game one on Saturday, April 20, versus the Tigers (15-21, 7-9 GPAC) is set for 1:00 p.m. in Crete, Nebraska.