Howie Stalwick (Special to The Forum), Published May 24 2010
College softball: NDSU falls to Huskers(Editor’s note: Saturday’s game was delayed and was still in progress when Sunday editions of The Forum went to press)
SEATTLE – The final out of the final game had been recorded, and players and coaches on the North Dakota State softball team exchanged hugs and a few tears before meeting with family and friends on their way to the team bus.
There would be no repeat of last year’s miracle run to the NCAA Super Regionals. The Bison went 0-2 at the Seattle Regional, bowing 5-1 to Nebraska late Saturday night in a game that was delayed three hours by rain after four innings of play.
“Long day,” Bison coach Darren Mueller summed up with a weary smile.
The Bison did not go quietly – literally or figuratively. After Nebraska tacked on three runs in the top of the seventh, Bison players came alive in the dugout and at the plate in the bottom half of the inning.
North Dakota State sandwiched a pair of wicked line drives around back-to-back singles and loaded the bases with one out. Unfortunately for the Bison, second baseman Julie Brechtel and third baseman Gabby Banda made spectacular grabs on the line drives, and Banda threw to second for a game-ending double play.
“They’ve been fighting back in the last inning all year … I’m proud of how they came out in the last inning,” Mueller said.
The Bison finished the season 33-25. Not great, but not bad for a team that won 14 of its final 20 games – including a 3-0 showing at The Summit League Tournament – following a six-game losing streak that ended with a five-inning, 14-1 shellacking at Creighton on April 5.
“I was proud of the players, to come back and win the conference tournament and get to regionals,” said Mueller, who owns a 321-173 record (.650) in nine years as head coach at his alma mater.
“We had high expectations, of course. We knew we were playing some really strong programs (in Seattle), but it was a good season for us, to come back from some of the adversity that we went through during the season.”
The Bison, who lost 3-0 to top-ranked Washington on Friday, lose Summit League Player of the Year Melissa Chmielewski and two other senior starters: second-team all-league second baseman Laurel Pipkin and center fielder Taylor Lynn. Chmielewski and Pipkin were four-year starters, and Lynn started the past three seasons.
“They’re all going to be very tough to replace … but we’re excited about the freshmen we’ve got coming in,” Mueller said.
“The left side of our infield is returning. Our pitching is returning, and most of our outfield is returning, so we have some people that are returning with quite a bit of experience. But we’ll be pretty young next year compared to this year.”
Whitney Johnson, the Summit League Freshman of the Year, posted a 26-18 record as the Bison’s No. 1 pitcher. Johnson was victimized by 36 home runs in 47 games, including three on Saturday – two in the final inning.
“She made some big strides this year,” Mueller said, “but she’s still obviously very young. The focus on each pitch – I think that’s something she has to learn to do.”
Johnson gave up six hits, one more than Nebraska’s Ashley Hagemann (15-15). Pinch-hitter Becca Gift singled in Brea Konz with North Dakota State’s lone run in the fourth inning.
Heidi Foland, Alex Hupp and Ashley Guile homered for the Cornhuskers (30-28) at Husky Softball Stadium.
NEB 101 000 3– 5 6 1
NDSU 000 100 0– 1 5 0
Hagemann and Guile. Johnson and McKenzie. W–Hagemann (15-15). L–Johnson (26-18). HR–NEB, Foland (13), Guile (4), Hupp (2).