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Brian J. Pedersen / Special to The Forum, Published May 18 2012

NDSU softball drops first game at NCAA tournament

TUCSON, Ariz. – North Dakota State was already facing an uphill battle by having to open the NCAA Division I softball tournament against perennial powerhouse Arizona on its traditionally tough home field.

Mistakes, missed opportunities and poor execution just made it all the more difficult for the Bison.

North Dakota State must now fight its way out of the loser’s bracket after falling 11-0 to Arizona on Friday night at Hillenbrand Stadium, a game the Bison could have just as easily won had it capitalized on any of its numerous scoring chances or minimized its defensive and pitching miscues.

“We didn’t play like we’re capable of playing,” NDSU head coach Darren Mueller said. “You don’t get to this level and all of a sudden play like this.”

NDSU (37-21) faces Hawaii at 7:30 tonight in an elimination game. Win and it plays either Arizona or Notre Dame – which beat Hawaii 7-3 in nine innings Friday – at 10 p.m. in another win-or-go-home contest.

The linescore from Friday’s tournament opener hardly did justice to the game, as NDSU outhit Arizona 7-5, yet stranded eight baserunners due to its hitters going 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position.

Bison pitchers Krista Menke and Whitney Johnson didn’t help their causes, issuing eight walks and hitting three batters while also allowing five stolen bases, including one on a delayed double steal after NDSU catcher Jenina Ortega threw down to second base.

“You’re not going to win many games when you put (11) batters on base from hit batters and walks,” Mueller said.

NDSU also committed three errors, each of which directly led to large scoring rallies for 13th-seeded Arizona (36-17).

The Bison had a runner on second or further every inning, yet all it could manage in those situations was a bunt single by Cristina Borek to load the bases with one out in the top of the third. NDSU was only down 2-0 at the time. But instead of finding a way to narrow the gap or better, Brandi Enriquez grounded out and Ortega struck out.

While NDSU squandered its many chances, Arizona found ways to score without much of its normal offensive output.

Arizona scored twice in the first inning through the unorthodox mixture of two hit batters, a walk, four stolen bases – including the aforementioned one of home – a throwing error and a safety squeeze.

“The sun was setting right in the eyes of second base, and I felt I had an advantage if I could take advantage,” Arizona coach Mike Candrea said of the aggressive baserunning in the first. “I told the kids we have got to be aggressive, we have got to be the aggressor.”

The Wildcats plated five in the third with the help of only two hits, a leadoff triple off the left-center wall by Brigette Del Ponte and a grand slam from Kristen Arriola, which made it 7-0 shortly after NDSU shortstop Brea Konz bobbled a gimme grounder that would have ended the inning but instead allowed a run to score.

“We have another game, we have another opportunity to make our corrections,” Konz said.

NDSU also got runners to second with one out in the fourth and fifth but got them to move no further, as Arizona starter Shelby Babcock notched five of her six strikeouts with runners in scoring position.

“When people are on base, you don’t want to walk people, so I just went right at them and it turned out well for me,” Babcock said.

NDSU will have an equally tough foe tonight in Hawaii, a club that lost only seven times during the regular season, is among the NCAA leaders in hitting and has players remaining from a 2010 Women’s College World Series appearance.

“We knew coming in this was a pretty tough region,” Mueller said. “We’re just going to have to come out and obviously in all aspects play better.”

NDSU 000 00 – 0 7 3

A 205 4x –11 5 0

Menke, Johnson (3) and Ortega. Babcock and Koria. W–Babcock (20-9). L–Menke (24-12). HR–A, Arriola (9).

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