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Jeff Kolpack, Published April 06 2012

Bison split with WIU in softball

FARGO – North Dakota State still leads the Summit League softball standings. The Bison aren’t exactly making it easy on themselves, either.

They got three unearned runs in the opener of a Friday doubleheader against Western Illinois in a 3-0 victory. They committed four errors in the Leathernecks’ 3-1 win at Ellig Sports Complex.

The bats were rather silent.

The gloves were rather shaky.

Take away the right pitching arm of freshman Krista Menke and no other first-place team in the country has as many questions as the Bison do. The head coach, for one, isn’t looking at the standings.

“I really think we’re a team that is underperforming,” said Darren Mueller. “Right now we don’t look like a team that can contend for a championship. We take each week and try to get better each week and we’re not doing it.”

The teams conclude their three-game series at noon today. NDSU is 9-2 in the Summit and 25-13 overall. Western is 11-3, 21-16. It would take a major collapse for the Bison not to make the four-team tournament field.

Fifth-place South Dakota is 6-6 in the league, but the Coyotes are not eligible for postseason because of a Division I reclassification. Sixth-place Missouri-Kansas City is just 3-6.

Still, it would appear consistency would make Mueller happier right now than an assurance of a tournament berth. He said his team could use more leadership than what it is getting. He said his hitters aren’t taking what they’re doing in practice and transferring it to a game.

This is a program that is used to high expectations and NCAA berths, after all.

“We’ll see what this team is made of, Mueller said.

In the opener, all three Bison runs were unearned, with catcher Amanda Grable making it hurt the most. Her two-run single in the first inning was all Menke would need.

She went seven innings, giving up just three hits and striking out six.

In the second game, the Bison took advantage of two walks to tie it at 1-1 in the bottom of the fourth. But NDSU also did a no-no on the mound in the top of the fifth when starting pitcher Whitney Johnson walked the No. 8 and 9 batters to open the inning.

The Bison still could have gotten out of it, but center fielder Alex Sobrero dropped a one-out fly ball. A successful squeeze bunt play made it 3-1.

WIU 000 000 0 – 0 3 2

NDSU 200 100 x – 3 4 0

Michelini, Bickford (5) and Romeo. Menke and Grable. W—Menke (16-6). L—Michelini (11-6)

WIU 001 020 0 – 3 1 2

NDSU 000 100 0 – 1 5 4

Bickford and Romeo. Johnson and Grable. W—Bickford (8-7). L—Johnson (9-7).

Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack can be reached at (701) 241-5546.

Kolpack’s NDSU media blog can be found

at www.areavoices.com/bisonmedia