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Tom Mix, Published May 10 2014

NDSU wins 1st title game against Fort Wayne, 2nd title game tomorrow

FARGO – Thousands crammed downtown to watch the Fargo Marathon on Saturday, but several blocks north another marathon of sorts was transpiring at the Ellig Sports Complex.

The North Dakota State softball team knew if it wanted to keep its dream of making it to the NCAA tournament alive it needed to win four games the rest of the weekend at the Summit League tournament.

There was no room for error.

The Bison went through the gauntlet winning three games – the last being a 3-1 victory over Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne in the title game of the double-elimination tournament. NDSU’s win over the Mastodons forces a second title game between the two teams at 10:30 a.m. today.

Junior right-handed pitcher Krista Menke may not have logged 26.2 miles on foot, but her arm definitely got a workout.

Menke pitched every inning of NDSU’s three wins and finished with a combined 27 strikeouts in 20 innings of work. Her final pitch count was 382 for the day.

“(Krista) did a tremendous job,” NDSU head coach Darren Mueller said. “Each game she got stronger. She had a gutty performance and did a great job out there for us.”

The Bison (34-16) opened the day with a 9-1 win over Western Illinois and followed that up with a 6-0 win over Indiana Purdue-Indianapolis.

Menke scattered 10 hits in the win over Fort Wayne and did not give up a run until the seventh inning.

The increased workload didn’t seem to faze the 5-foot-11 pitcher from Friend, Neb.

“I used to do this all the time in travel ball,” Menke said of playing three games in a day. “We just had to pretend like it was travel ball.

“I didn’t care about my pitch count at all,” Menke added. “I was just going to give it my all.”

The Bison plated two runs in the sixth inning when Cheyenne Garcia reached base on a double and later scored on an error by the center fielder trying to record an out on a deep fly off the bat of Jenina Ortega. Ortega motored to third base on the error and scored on a sacrifice fly hit by Amanda Grable.

NDSU added a run in the seventh inning to increase its lead to 3-0.

Menke’s bid for a second straight shutout was spoiled when the Mastodons scored on back-to-back singles to lead off the seventh, but the damage was limited thanks to a double play turned by sophomore shortstop Logan Moreland.

“It happened so fast,” Moreland said. “I reacted fast to get the ball, stepped on second and threw to first.”

It was the first double play turned by NDSU since March 21.

“It was huge,” Mueller said. “I thought we had a couple of chances to get some outs before that. They were starting to get a rally going and were getting some runners on base. That play was a huge momentum swing.”

Menke struck out pinch hitter Kelly Pevely for the final out of the game after giving up another pair of singles following the double play.

NDSU and Fort Wayne (40-14) have met to decide the Summit League tournament championship the past three years. Each time a second game was needed to determine the automatic berth into the NCAA tournament.

“I’m proud of what they did,” Mueller said. “That is a lot of games to play in one day and it had been a long time since we have done that. I want them to enjoy this, but honestly we still have work to do.”

NDSU 000 002 1– 3 6 1

FW 000 000 1– 1 10 2

Menke and Ortega. Kramer and Pugh. W–Menke (27-7). L–Kramer (20-9).

NDSU 004 020 0– 6 6 0

IUPUI 000 000 0– 0 2 0

Menke and Ortega. Oppenhuis, Escamilla (5), Thomas (7) and Dillon. W–Menke (26-7). L–Oppenhuis (10-12). HR–Lopez-Portillo.

WI 001 000 – 1 3 2

NDSU 020 214 – 9 12 0

Kirkpatrick, Bickford (4), Walsh (6) and Romeo. Menke and Ortega. W–Menke (25-7). L–Kirkpatrick (7-5). HR–Grable (8).

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Tom Mix at (701) 241-5562