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Brian J. Pedersen / Special to The Forum, Published May 19 2012

Bison survive in wild game at NCAA Division I softball tournament

TUCSON, Ariz. – The loser’s bracket of a postseason tournament provides a unique atmosphere, a win-or-go-home scenario where anything can happen. And both teams know their seasons are on the line.

Just about everything – including some things that, according to the rule books, can’t – happened in North Dakota State’s tumultuous 9-7 win over Hawaii on Saturday night in the NCAA Division I softball tournament’s Tucson Regional at Hillenbrand Stadium.

The victory snapped a seven-game NCAA tournament losing streak for the Bison (38-21) and kept them alive for at least one more game, a late-even-by-local-time-standards start late Saturday night against Notre Dame for the right to face host Arizona in today’s regional final.

NDSU’s game against Notre Dame was in progress when The Forum went to press.

A day after squandering every single offensive opportunity in an 11-0 mercy-rule loss to Arizona, the Bison could do no wrong when at bat against the Rainbow Wahine. NDSU blasted two home runs and had three hits with runners in scoring position, the exact opposite of its 1-for-11 performance in those situations against Arizona.

Even when things did go wrong for NDSU’s hitters, they were either aided by one of Hawaii’s three fielding errors or a series of head-scratching umpire calls, the first of which led to Hawaii coach Bob Coolen getting ejected while arguing one call, but before he could voice his displeasure with a second call on the same play.

NDSU’s Brandi Enriquez collided with Hawaii second baseman Dara Pagaduan with two outs in the top of the first as Pagaduan charged a soft grounder by Jenina Ortega. The ball popped away and was picked up by another Hawaii fielder, who tagged Enriquez before she got to second, but despite the inning-ending force the umpires ruled that Alex Sobrero – who started the play on second – was able to score to tie the game at 1-1.

Coolen was tossed while arguing why no interference was called on either the runner or fielder, never getting a chance to question the fact a run cannot score on a force play for the third out. Coolen watched the remainder of the game from an elevated porch on a building just beyond Hillenbrand’s right-field fence.

Hawaii (44-9) took a 4-1 lead in the third thanks to back-to-back homers from Kayla Wartner and Sarah Robinson, Wartner’s being a two-run shot.

But NDSU retook the lead 5-4 with a four-run third, getting yet another pair of helpful calls. Having already scored twice on a two-out, two-run single by Brea Konz, the rally seemed to end when Amanda Grable lined out to right. But Hawaii starter Kaia Parnaby was called for her second illegal pitch of the night, putting Grable back at the plate and allowing her to double home Konz for a 5-5 tie.

Sobrero then singled up the middle, and even though Grable was easily gunned out at home, Hawaii catcher Wartner was called for obstruction because the home-plate umpire said she blocked the plate too far up the third-base line.

From that point it was just a back-and-forth slugfest, with Hawaii retaking the lead 6-5 with two in the fourth, only to see NDSU tie it in its half of the fourth. Hawaii led again 7-6 in the fifth on a two-out single by pinch-hitter Jocelyn Enrique, but NDSU then regained the lead for good with two runs in the bottom of the fifth.

After Cristina Borek and Konz led off the fifth with a single and double, respectively, Grable’s grounder to short was booted by Hawaii shortstop Jessica Iwata, letting Borek score to tie the game. Sobrero then hit a fielder’s choice to bring in Konz with the game-winning run.

Taylor Mortensen led off the sixth with a solo home run for an insurance run to make it 9-7, and NDSU pitcher Krista Menke shook off a hit batter – on a pitch Hawaii’s Kaile Nakao swung at – and two singles with no out to keep the Wahine from scoring. It helped that one of the singles deflected off a Hawaii baserunner, resulting in an out.