FREMONT, Neb. – Mental toughness has been a point of emphasis for the Midland University softball team as of late, and the team showed plenty of it in the latter stages of its doubleheader on Tuesday.
The No. 20 Warriors (21-7, 11-3 GPAC) dropped game one in extra innings to the (RV) Concordia Bulldogs (21-7, 10-4 GPAC) and then fell behind in game two, but never gave in and battled back to salvage a split with a dramatic game two victory.
“I’m pleased with how the girls handled the adversity in our second game,” said Midland head coach Mike Heard. “I thought they were able to not just put game one behind them, but also learn from it.”
Pinch-hitter Michaela Jackson provided the deciding blow as her walk-off home run to centerfield gave the Warriors a much-needed win after a less-than-stellar effort in game one. Jackson’s home run was the first of her collegiate career.
Game two for the Warriors was important because of how game one played out. Both starting pitchers had their opponents searching for answers all the way into the ninth inning as neither team could manufacture a run.
Midland starter Jaylee Hinrichs pitched another complete game, tossing nine innings and allowing just four hits and two walks while striking out eight Bulldog hitters.
Camry Moore was just as effective in the circle for Concordia as she too pitched the entirety of game one. Moore allowed six hits and did not surrender a walk while striking out seven batters.
Missed opportunities plagues both teams as the Warriors left eight runners on base in the game while Concordia stranded five. Both defenses were solid in backing up their pitchers, as each team only committed one error.
The play of the game came from Midland right fielder Jamie Phares in the sixth inning. Concordia’s Hhana Haro flew a ball deep toward the fence, but Phares made a running grab while flipping over the outfield fence to rob Haro of extra bases and possibly a home run. The play proved to be huge as the game stayed scoreless into extras.
Concordia finally broke the tie in the ninth inning after Moore bunted pinch-runner Emily Sherstone to second base. In the next at bat, Sherstone stole third as Katlin Anders‘ throw sailed into left field, allowing Sherstone to score the only run of the game as Bulldogs held on for a 1-0 win.
“The first game was a disappointing loss,” Heard said. “We had our chances but just couldn’t find a way to get it done. Jaylee pitched a heck of a game, we just need to find ways to win those games.”
The difficult ending to game one carried over into game two as the Warriors committed two errors in the top of the second inning that allowed a run to score for Concordia.
Midland starter Hailee Fliam ran into more trouble in the second inning as the Bulldogs loaded the bases, setting up back-to-back walks issued by Fliam, putting Concordia up 3-0.
Nothing seemed to be going right for the Warriors, but they stayed focused and found a way to keep themselves in the game.
Fliam settled in and held the Bulldogs scoreless for three innings, allowing the Warriors to tie the game at 3-3 in the sixth inning as Brazil delivered another RBI base hit that ricocheted off the first baseman’s glove, allowing pinch-runner Shelbi Larson to score from third.
Hinrich’s relived the freshman Fliam in the top of the seventh after a leadoff single and proceeded to strike out the side and give the Warriors a shot at the win. They wasted no time in doing so as Jackson’s home run sent the Warriors off with a 4-3 win.
The ending of game two was the only lead the Warriors held in the doubleheader.
“They fought hard to get a big win in that second game,” Heard said. “I was thrilled to see Michaela step up that last inning with a big hit to win it.”
The split allows Midland to stay situated in second place in the GPAC standings at 11-3, one game ahead of Concordia at 10-4. Both teams are still chasing the Morningside Mustangs who currently sit at 14-2 in conference play.
The Warriors will get their shot at Morningside (21-6 overall) in a pivotal doubleheader on Thursday, April 18, at Christensen Field in Fremont. The doubleheader could ultimately decide who wears the 2019 regular season crown as it is the only regular season matchup scheduled between the two programs.
First pitch of game one on Thursday is set for 3:00 p.m.