The North Dakota State Bison softball team claimed five of the last six Summit League regular season championships heading into this season. Heading into the final weekend of the regular season, the Bison needed nothing less than a sweep of league leading Western Illinois to hold the crown for another year.
NDSU got the job done with a pair of wins in the doubleheader Saturday, May 6 and clinched the title Sunday. The sweep secured the postseason tournament will again be held in Fargo next year as the Bison gained the No. 1 seed in this year’s tournament.
NDSU took care of business in the first game of the series as two of the best pitchers in the conference took the circle.
Bison ace Jacquelyn Sertic dominated from the start, striking out two of the three Leathernecks in the first inning.
Western Illinois starter Emily Ira matched Sertic, sitting down two Bison in the first.
Sertic responded by striking out another pair in the second, but Ira did as well. Sertic rang up her fifth and sixth Leathernecks in the third. Ira rang up her fifth and sixth Bison in the bottom half of the inning.
Combined, the two pitchers allowed just one base runner in the first time through the batting orders. Bison left fielder Stephanie Soriano led off the first, working a walk from Ira but was caught stealing.
The game changed the second time through the lineup, and the top of the Bison order struck. Zoe Stavrou tagged Ira for the first hit of the game with a liner to center. Bre Beatty followed up the single with a ground ball to short. There was no throw on the play, and the Bison had two runners on.
The cards lined up for Vanessa Anderson, as the junior first baseman lifted a ball to deep center. WIU center fielder Jasmine Lara stood at the fence and reached for the ball, but it sailed over her glove for a three-run shot. The home run was Anderson’s team leading sixth of the year.
Head coach Darren Mueller commented on how the Bison batters were trying to calm down the second time through the order. “We were letting (Ira) control the pace, and I think we were trying to control our at-bats.”
Now with a lead, Sertic continued to battle. A leadoff walk in the top of the fifth ended the perfect game bid. But the senior dug in with two strikeouts before getting help from the defense. A 13-pitch at-bat with Payton Abbott ended with the Leathernecks hitter lifting a ball into left field. Madyson Camacho dove in at full stretch to make the catch and save a run from scoring.
“There is a lot of confidence in (the defense) and the team is building off right now. If we could bring that to the offensive side, I would be happy,” Mueller said.
Sertic lost the no-hit bid on an unfortunate play in the sixth. The pitcher tried to field Jasmine Lara’s comeback grounder, but the ball deflected off her glove and rolled into right field. But two more strikeouts later, NDSU were back in the dugout.
Sertic worked the seventh to finish off the complete game and closed the game with a strikeout of Abbott. The last strikeout brought her total to 13 on the day to go along with just two hits allowed.
NDSU opened the game up early in the second game of the day. Soriano’s two-out single started the movement for the Bison. Montana DeCamp beat the throw on a ground ball to short for an infield hit.
Julia Luciano hit a bloop single to right field to score Soriano to open the scoring. DeCamp stood on third, and Luciano advanced to second on the throw.
Mueller sent senior Dani Renner to pinch-hit for Katie Shoultz for the next at-bat. The senior hit a line drive past the left fielder to bring in a pair of runs.
As in the first game, three runs were all that was needed for the Bison pitcher, this time in KK Leddy. The junior worked out of a small jam in the third inning with a strikeout of Ashley Minyard.
That was the last jam Leddy would work out of, but she was still needed to be alert. Sydney Hollings opened the top of the fifth with a liner right into Leddy’s glove.
A pair of one-hoppers back to Leddy were fielded cleanly and led to the second and third outs of the sixth.
Hollings again made sure Leddy was ready at the end of the seventh, but the junior got her glove up to make the game-ending catch.
Leddy gave up just two hits and a single walk in the shutout with four strikeouts.
The win was also No. 600 for Mueller in his 17th season as the Bison head coach.
“My initial thought is that I am old. That’s the first thing that came to my mind,” Mueller said with chuckle. “To me, it is about past players, previous players all that they have done for our program.”
NDSU took game three 4-0 on Sunday to take their sixth straight regular season title. Sertic was perfect through six and a third with 13 strikeouts. Stavrou hit a two-run home run to lead the Bison at the plate.