For the first time since the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference softball tournament began in 1996, the Southwest Minnesota State will not be a part of the postseason.
Needing a strong showing Monday against the University of Mary in their final NSIC doubleheader of the regular season to have a shot at making the playoffs, the Mustangs played on their heels and the Marauders jumped on their opportunities to earn a sweep at Mustang Field in Marshall.
SMSU committed an unsightly seven errors in a 7-4 loss in Game 1, then gave up a seven-run sixth inning to lose hold of a three-run lead in what was eventually an 8-4 Marauders victory.
Photo by Matt Dahlseid
Southwest Minnesota State senior catcher Krista Steen, right, is tagged out at home plate by University of Mary catcher Jessica Alvarado to end the bottom of the fifth inning of Game 2 of Monday’s Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference doubleheader at Mustang FIeld.
The Mustangs finish the season in ninth place in the NSIC standings with a 12-14 conference record (21-21 overall). The top eight teams in the conference advance to the NSIC tournament.
With its two wins Monday, Mary finished fifth in the standings with a 15-11 mark (26-17 overall) and will take on No. 4 seed Minnesota-Duluth in the opening round of the NSIC tournament Thursday in Rochester.
First-year SMSU head coach Missy Bruggeman said her team didn't seem to have the right mindset Monday, especially in the Game 1 error-fest.
Mary 320 020 0-7 12 2
SMSU 001 011 1-4 8 7
M-Erin Keen. SMSU-Rachel Groff, Chelsey Evans (2). WP-Keen. LP-Groff. 3B: SMSU-Shelbie Stoll. 2B: M-Melissa Gonzalez, Brittney Hadley; SMSU; Christine Borowiak. SB: M-Jenna Button, Gonzalez, Allison Brown. LOB: M 7, SMSU 6.
Mary 010 007 0-8 7 0
SMSU 001 030 0-4 10 1
M-Emily Sinclair, Rachel Davis (6). SMSU-Chelsey Evans. WP-Sinclair. LP-Evans. HR: SMSU-Evans. 3B: M-Gonzalez, Brooke Hageness. 2B: SMSU-Ashley Gigax. SB: M-Alexandra Medina, Tricia Clarke. LOB: M 4, SMSU 6.
"I think today was a little bit of playing not to lose instead of playing to win," Bruggeman said. "We got a little tentative on defense, obviously. Those errors were big and (Mary) took advantage of them."
The SMSU miscues showed up from the start of the doubleheader, with Mary scoring three unearned runs in the first inning on three hits and three SMSU errors. The Marauders tacked on two more runs in the second on an error and an RBI double by Melissa Gonzalez.
Mustang freshman starting pitcher Rachel Groff didn't make it out of the second inning, giving up five runs (only two earned) on six hits. Senior Chelsey Evans worked the remaining 5 2/3 innings, giving up two runs (one earned) on six hits with a walk and four strikeouts.
On a near-perfect day for softball, Bruggeman said it wasn't the conditions that led to the errors, nor was it due to her team getting bad breaks.
"It was a lot of routine errors like balls going between the legs, things that we work on every day," Bruggeman said. "Fundamentals are what are going to carry our team and when you lack in fundamentals at the end of the season, you're really going to suffer from that. I think it was just playing a little tentatively versus playing out there to get it done."
Senior right fielder Christine Borowiak was a bright spot for SMSU in the game, going 4-for-4 at the plate with a double and an RBI. She scored two of SMSU's four runs.
Behind a strong start from Evans in Game 2, the Mustangs recovered from their shaky opener to take a 4-1 lead through five innings, during which Evans held Mary to just two hits.
The Mustangs scored three of their runs in the fifth inning, with the first coming on Evans' first career home run. Kris Penick and Kaley Scearcy followed with back-to-back singles before Krista Steen hit a ball through the left side of the infield to score Penick. Ashley Gigax followed with a double to left field which allowed Scearcy to score, but Steen was thrown out at the plate to end the inning.
In the top of the sixth, Evans' glove hand took a sharp liner by Gonzalez. She shook off the pain and stayed in the game after a brief break in the action.
After Kristin Ormsby reached first on a fielder's choice to load the bases, Evans walked Samantha Antolin to make the score 4-2. Alexandra Medina followed with a bunt, which Evans fielded and flipped to Steen. Steen couldn't handle the toss and two runners scored to tie the game and Mary went on to score four more runs to seal the 8-4 victory.
Bruggeman thought Evans did well to recover from taking the liner to her hand, but said the Mary hitters made adjustments and were able to break out for a big inning.
"They did a nice job of putting the ball in play and making things happen, forcing our defense to make some plays," said Bruggeman, whose team had one error in Game 2. "Unfortunately, they hit the ball to some gaps and it opened up the flood gates for them."
Scearcy went 3-for-4 with an RBI to lead the SMSU offense in the loss.
Monday's games were the final ones for SMSU seniors Evans, Penick, Steen and Borowiak. Borowiak's double in Game 1 was the 35th of her career, which puts her at third on SMSU's all-time list.
All four seniors were big contributors to the team and Bruggeman said they will be missed, but she thinks the Mustangs are on the right path to becoming a top team in the conference as her young players continue to gain experience. SMSU had multiple freshmen and sophomores step into big roles throughout the season.
"I'm really proud of the girls for buying into a new system," Bruggeman said. "I think the work ethic is there. Now it's just to teach more of the philosophy, teach more of the fundamentals. Once we're a little more sound, I think this will definitely be a team to contend with over the next few years."