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Brian J. Pedersen / Special to the Forum , Published May 20 2012

Bison softball season ends with late-night loss to Notre Dame in NCAAs

TUCSON, Ariz. – How do you put a positive spin on a season when it ends with a crushing loss?

North Dakota State co-head coach Darren Mueller had little time to think about that as his 14 players slumped in a loose circle of despair in the Hillenbrand Stadium outfield following an 8-4 loss to Notre Dame late Saturday in the NCAA Division I softball tournament.

The Bison’s emotional rollercoaster of a day, in which it came from behind three times to beat Hawaii earlier only to see Notre Dame rally with seven runs over the final two innings, sapped every ounce of effort from NDSU’s 10 starters, all of whom played every one of the Bison’s 14 innings Saturday.

“We ran out of gas, but we run on E pretty good,” said sophomore catcher Jenina Ortega, who scored during a two-run bottom of the fifth that gave the Bison a 3-1 lead over Notre Dame. “This is just part of the game. You just take it how it is and roll with the punches.”

NDSU (38-22), which tied its Division I school record for wins with the 2009 club that reached the Super Regionals, appeared to be headed for Sunday’s regional final against host Arizona after taking that lead. But Notre Dame (40-15), which fell into the loser’s bracket earlier Saturday by losing 7-2 to Arizona, woke up offensively and started to batter NDSU pitcher Krista Menke.

One-out singles by Amy Buntin and Dani Miller were followed by a four-pitch walk to Lauren Stuhr. Katey Haus then singled in a run to cut the NDSU lead to 3-2, and shortly after the game was tied following a wild pitch from Menke that glanced off the top of Ortega’s outstretched catcher’s mitt.

Notre Dame’s Chloe Saganowich then gave the Fighting Irish the lead for good with a 2-run single through the right side, a ball that instead of reaching NDSU right fielder Jamie Gay to give her a chance to throw out the second runner at home, glanced off an umpire’s leg and ricocheted into center to ensure two runs crossed home plate.

“They were the better team that game,” freshman third baseman Amanda Grable said of Notre Dame. “We did everything right, and sometimes you just get beat.”

The Irish added a fifth run in the sixth and two more in the seventh, with the Bison picking up one run in the bottom of the seventh before Gay struck out swinging to end the game.

“They never stopped fighting,” Mueller said. “Every time you feel like you have your back against the wall, they fought back.”

North Dakota State loses six seniors, including starters Gay, Cristina Borek, Brea Konz, Taylor Mortensen and Katie Tamayo. All but Tamayo started on each of the Bison’s four NCAA tournament teams since 2009.

ND 100 005 2–8 11 0

NDSU 010 020 1–4 7 0

Winter and Buntin. Menke and Ortega. W–Winter (29-10). L–Menke (25-13). HR–ND, Buntin; NDSU, Grable (9).