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Jeff Kolpack, Published May 14 2010

College softball: Bison trying to find postseason magic again

The run started about this time last year for the North Dakota State softball team, and what a sprint it was. The postseason race took the Bison all the way to the NCAA Super Regional in Tempe, Ariz.

They were the feel-good story of the spring.

The sequel hasn’t been so smooth this year, however. A team with most of its players back lost six straight and seven of eight in one stretch.

“We talked about going out and having fun – playing with passion,” said first baseman Melissa Chmielewski, who leads the team with a .404 average. “We felt we were lacking that. As a veteran team, we didn’t have a whole lot of young kids who were just happy to be out there and having fun. Sometimes, you lose that along the way.”

NDSU hopes to continue to get it back at The Summit League tournament, which starts today at the Ellig Sports Complex. The site is predetermined, but the Bison – 30-23 overall and 14-8 in the league – still had to finish in the top four to earn a berth.

They won 10 of their final 13 conference games, but this week, the players still say No. 1 seed Western Illinois has all the pressure.

“Coming off last year, this is a completely different team,” said second baseman Laurel Pipkin. “The chemistry is different. They’re the No. 1 seed, they’re supposed to win.”

Top-seeded WIU plays No. 4 South Dakota State today at 10 a.m. NDSU, No. 3, hosts second-seeded Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne. The tourney winner gets an automatic berth into the NCAA tournament.

Another reason NDSU feels more confident late in the year: The pitcher-catcher duo – led last year by departed seniors Andi Padilla and Kelly Cantrell – is more experienced. Freshman Whitney Johnson is the established starter and junior Maryssa McKenzie is the catcher.

“Even though we’re an experienced team, myself and Whitney are a new battery and that does change the dynamic of the whole team,” McKenzie said. “But we’re getting the hang of things and a lot of that was just learning. We’ve come together as a team.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack at (701) 241-5546