Photo By Nolan P. Schmidt
It was the weather, not the prestige of the home team, that was the biggest storyline heading into tonight’s NCAA Softball Regional game between the North Dakota State Bison and Minnesota Golden Gophers. It’s expected to rain most of the weekend here and thunderstorms were expected mid-game tonight. Luckily, the weather gods smiled upon Minneapolis tonight, providing a clear sky to play a full seven-inning game of softball.
Unfortunately for the Bison, they could not unseat the seventh-seeded Gophers in their home park. Minnesota defeated North Dakota State 3-0, sending the Bison to a date with the Drake Bulldogs tomorrow at 5:30 p.m. The loser of that game is heading home.
With senior ace KK Leddy in the circle to begin the night, the Bison started strong on both sides of the diamond. Minnesota’s Big Ten Pitcher of the Year Amber Fiser coasted through the top of the first but was met with a battle in the top of the second. Senior catcher Maddie Hansen muscled out a single in the second frame, forcing Fiser to offer up more pitches than intended. Hansen was left in scoring position to end the top of the second.
However, like Balboa in Rocky IV, the Bison discovered that Fiser (Ivan Drago) could bleed, that she was just a woman, not a machine as many perceived her to be. Whether NDSU capitalized on that ideal had yet to be seen.
“The biggest thing for us was seeing a little bit faster velocity than we’re used to. I think we overthought it a little bit more than what we needed to. We just need to keep it simple,” said senior catch Maddie Hansen of Fiser.
Uncharacteristically, the Bison defense seemed to be the weak point in the early going. In the bottom of the second, Minnesota plated one run on the combination of a hit batter, a hit/error and a passed ball. Entering the game with a solid .976 fielding percentage coming into the game, the errant play in the field for NDSU was truly atypical. Ultimately, it cost them a run early in the contest.
“We just made it a little fast. Those were all good pitches, the one that Sam [Koehn] had she is a fast runner, so we knew we kind of had to rush it a little bit. She just had to rush the play because they have little bit more speed,” said head coach Darren Mueller postgame. “The other one too, Montana [DeCamp], had to get rid of it a little quicker than we’re used to. I think we’re capable of making those plays, it just kind of got a little bit quicker for us.”
As the game wore on, Fiser settled in for the Gophers. It was clear that the Bison had not seen that caliber of pitcher since their non-conference slate ended. North Dakota State did not see another hit until Vanessa Anderson squeaked one in the gap in the top of the fourth. The speed at which Fiser was throwing at clearly threw off the Bison hitters. Yet, Darren Mueller noted earlier this week that NDSU should expect to strike out against Fiser. The key was not letting it impact the game as a whole.
Leddy, the senior from Middleburg, Florida, battled through a few hiccups to keep the Gophers within reach. She only surrendered two hits to Minnesota and did not give up an earned run through four despite walking three batters. For how good Amber Fiser was tonight, Leddy matched her in every frame. She ended the contest only giving up six hits and two earned runs.
“Next pitch and next better. Stuff happens, you can’t dwell on it and attack the next batter and kind of forget about it,” said Leddy after the game.
Again, it was some uncommon defensive play that signaled the demise of the Bison late in the contest. KK Leddy surrendered a hit in the top of the fifth inning and an error brought that runner all the way to third base. Minnesota’s Maddy Houlihan plated that runner with a sacrifice fly.
While the Bison put up a valiant effort in the final two innings, Amber Fiser continued to stifle NDSU’s hitters. The Gophers would hang on to win 3-0. Had it not been for those timely errors defensively, this recap may have an entirely different complexion.
Never the less, North Dakota State will now take on Drake tomorrow at 5:30 p.m. (weather permitting). The Bulldogs had a one-run lead over Georgia before they surrendered it and ultimately lost on a walk-off home run in extra innings. Now, the two teams will be fighting to stay alive in Minneapolis with the winner taking on either Minnesota or Georgia at 8 p.m. tomorrow night.
“I guess just shaking it off as fast as you can. It’s always tough when you lose, but we’ve had situations where we’ve won and we’ve had to play 30 minutes afterwards. I think you just get used to shaking it off as quickly as you can,” said Mueller. “Maybe enjoying a win or sulking over a loss, however you want to do it. That’s what we told the team after the game, we have to get over this pretty fast to get ready to play here tomorrow and I know they will, they’re competitors.”
Certainly, it’s not the outcome Mueller and the Bison wanted, but if there is one thing we know about North Dakota State softball it’s that they’re resilient. Their performance in the Summit League Tournament is proof of that. Do not be surprised to see an energized Bison team tomorrow, rain or shine.