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Jeff Kolpack, Published May 04 2013

NDSU's Ortega continues to improve, gain confidence

FARGO – The title of go-to hitter for the North Dakota State softball team was up for grabs at the beginning of the season. For the first time in his 12 years as head coach, Darren Mueller didn’t have any idea who was the favorite to lead the team.

The results are in and two years ago, nobody would have predicted Jenina Ortega would be batting fourth and be the team’s leading hitter by a good margin. But two years of steady progress has resulted in a .348 batting average, including a two-run home run Saturday that proved to be the game-winner over the University of South Dakota.

Her two-run shot paced the Bison to a 7-5 victory to improve them to 17-1 in the Summit League and 30-14 overall. NDSU, which already had the regular-season title wrapped up, now has a week to get ready for the Summit tournament, which starts Thursday at the Ellig Sports Complex.

With just one senior in pitcher Whitney Carlson, a young team isn’t playing like it’s so young anymore.

“Early in the year, it was almost like that in-over-your-head syndrome,” Mueller said. “Once we got into conference, they started to get a little more confident. We’re such a young team though that we’re learning all the time.”

The learning curve for Ortega has been noticeable just in the numbers. She hit .208 as a freshman and .246 last year.

“It was a struggle my freshman year,” she said, “but I’ve learned a lot since then. It was a different atmosphere (from high school). I think a lot of it has to do with confidence in myself and everybody having confidence in me.”

She took a similar growth pattern in high school, hitting .522 for the San Jose Strikers summer team in California her final season.

“I think she’s just matured as a player,” Mueller said. “She’s a very smart hitter and she’s put in a lot of work to keep getting better.”

Her homer on Saturday came in the bottom of the fifth inning that gave NDSU a 7-3 lead. The Bison also got a three-run home run from Alyssa Reina, who has the next-best average on the team at .269, and a solo shot by Cheyenne Garcia.

One noticeable trait in Ortega that’s noticeable: She isn’t afraid to swing hard. Mueller said that was an emphasis in the offseason, to develop more power in her hitting attack.

“This is the first year I’ve coached where we really didn’t have a club what we were going to get out of anybody,” Mueller said. “The way she’s stepped up has been great for our team.”

USD 003 002 0– 5 6 0

NDSU 104 020 x– 7 10 0

Frain, Blackburn (5) and Daly. Johnson and Reina. W–Johnson (21-7). L–Frain (7-9). HR–USD, Minogue (6), Hancock (7). NDSU, Garcia (5), Ortega (7), Reina (6).


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

Kolpack’s NDSU media blog can be found

at www.areavoices.com/bisonmedia