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Tom Mix, Published May 11 2014

NDSU defeats IPFW in Summit League softball tournament championship game

FARGO – After losing its opening game of the Summit League tournament, the North Dakota State softball team needed to win five games in order to extend its season.

Mission complete.

NDSU’s uphill climb culminated with a 12-5 win over Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne in the championship game Sunday at Ellig Sports Complex.

The Bison (35-16) earn the Summit League’s automatic bid into the NCAA tournament. NDSU last won the Summit League tournament in 2012. IPFW won the tournament a year ago in Fargo, snapping NDSU’s streak of four straight titles.

“It’s awesome,” sophomore Jackie Stifter said of the victory. “It is a great feeling, especially after last year when we came up short. Then to come back this year through the loser’s bracket. There is no better feeling.”

NDSU connected for four home runs in the game and jumped out to 11-0 lead after four innings. Summit League pitcher of the year Miranda Kramer was knocked out of the game in the third inning.

Stifter connected for a two-run home run in the second inning to get NDSU on the board.

“We have seen IPFW a lot this year,” NDSU head coach Darren Mueller said. “Our approach was just to go after them. If you play four games in two days and you start to back off and wait for something to happen, you are going to be in trouble, so we kept attacking. After Jackie hit that first home run we just kept clicking.”

NDSU added four runs in the third inning when sophomore Jenna Isbel scored on a wild pitch and senior catcher Jenina Ortega connected for a three-run home run.

Kramer was pulled for reliever Megan Flenniken to face Ortega. Ortega hammered Flenniken’s first pitch over the center field fence.

“Usually, when a pitcher comes in, the first pitch she wants to get a strike,” Ortega said. “I knew I was going to get something and I just reacted.”

Sophomore Logan Moreland and junior Amanda Grable added two-run homeruns in the fourth inning.

“It set the tone for the game and everyone just fed off of it,” Ortega said of the early runs. “We kept going and we never stopped.”

“We were looking to be aggressive,” Stifter added. “Whether it came in the form of us all getting singles and scoring runs, or hitting home runs, it didn’t really matter. We just wanted to get on base and put the ball in play.”

NDSU was a strike away of ending the game in five innings, but IPFW’s Dani Pugh hit a grand slam off NDSU starter Krista Menke in the fifth to help the Mastodons avoid being eight-run ruled.

Menke, who was named the tournament’s most valuable player, scattered seven hits and struck out 10 batters in a complete-game effort. Menke recorded the win in all five games NDSU needed to clinch its NCAA tournament berth including three victories on Saturday when she threw a total of 382 pitches.

Besides the grand slam to Pugh, Menke was sharp after pitching 20 innings Saturday.

“You are always confident, but you never know what is going to happen,” Menke said. “We were pretty dead set in early on. Towards the fifth inning I got a little jittery, but I came back and fought through.”

A total of 41 home runs were hit during the five-day tournament.

NDSU’s four home runs ties a single-game team tournament record. That record was tied four different times over the weekend.

IPFW 000 050 0– 5 7 0

NDSU 024 510 x– 12 13 0

Kramer, Flenniken (3), Biere (4) and Pugh, Mintari (3). Menke and Ortega. W–Menke (28-7). L–Kramer (20-10). HR–NDSU, Stifter (2), Ortega (9), Moreland (8), Grable (9); IPFW, Pugh (12).

All-tournament team

NDSU: Krista Menke (MVP), Jenina Ortega, Logan Moreland, Amanda Grable, Alex Sobrero. IPFW: Miranda Kramer, Ashleigh Bousquet, Alex Bousquet, Larissa Franklin. IUPUI: Ali Mosier, Taylor Chitwood, Roni Patterson. WIU: Briana Williams, Sammy Marshall. SDSU: Sammy Bingham. USD: Katie Cochran.

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Tom Mix at (701) 241-5562