Take 2 of 3 in a low-scoring series
The North Dakota State University softball team took two of three games from the St. Thomas Tommies in their regular-season finale at Tharaldson Park in Fargo this weekend. The Bison swept the Tommies in Friday’s doubleheader by scores of 2-0 and 3-0. On Saturday, the Tommies slipped by the Bison 2-1 to salvage one win for the weekend. NDSU finishes the regular season at 10-8 in the Summit League, good for third place, and 28-21 overall. St. Thomas finishes 8-13 in Summit League play, good for sixth place while finishing their regular season at 14-36.
Starting pitcher Paige Vargas looked sharp coming off of a tough performance last week versus North Dakota. Vargas had been perfect through fourth innings when St. Thomas starting pitcher Christina Crawford lined a base hit to left field with one out in the fifth. However, Vargas then got Mackenzie Rudy out on a soft line drive and Sydney Mickett to ground out second to first to leave Crawford stranded, the Tommies only stranded runner of the game.
Then with one out in the final stanza, St. Thomas’s Coryn Jacobson and Sarah Hudson singled off Vargas to put runners on first and second. But Vargas finished strong and forced Crawford to pop out to shortstop and struck Sarah Hudson out swinging to end the game and collect her 14th win of the season against nine losses.
Vargas approached this game a little differently than last week’s start versus North Dakota. “Well, today I decided to attack and whatever happens, happens,” said Vargas. “I know my team had my back and we would score a run eventually, so I decided I wasn’t going to back down.” She had better “stuff” today, too. “My curveball worked a little better today,” said Vargas. “My drop did, too.” She finished with six strikeouts along with the three hits she surrendered over her seven innings of work.
On offense, the Bison did hit the Tommies Crawford much harder, but only managed to score two runs. In the fourth, the Bison had runners on first and second with just one out after Dez Cardenas walked and Cameryn Maykut singled. The designated player Reanna Rudd laced a line drive to center but Tommie centerfielder Kaitlyn Raymond, with some help from a ferocious southerly wind made the catch on what should have easily been a double. Then Carley Goetschius hit a line drive to St. Thomas’s third baseman Hudson, who knocked it down, but Goetschius reached safely, and all runners advanced to load the bases for the Bison. Then Crawford set NDSU’s Avery Wysong down swinging on a 3-2 pitch stranding all three runners.
The Bison scored their only runs in the fifth. Shortstop Nicole Licea singled to right, then advanced to second on a passed ball. With a runner on second and no outs, Head Coach Darren Mueller sent Skylar Padgett the bunt sign. Padgett laid down a well-executed sacrifice bunt to move Licea to third. With one out, Molly Gates ripped a Crawford pitch right up the middle, but Crawford made a clutch stab and came up with the ball and forced Gates out at first. Up next for the Bison was centerfielder Emily Buringa. Mueller sent another bunt signal to Buringa who squeezed in Licea with the first run of the game. Then Dez Cardenas tripled to right field to score Buringa and give the Bison an insurance run with a 2-0 lead. Crawford then got Maykut to pop out to shortstop to end the inning.
Cardenas went 2-2 with a base-on-balls and earned one of the two Bison RBIs. Buringa scored the insurance run and knocked in the game-winner with the squeeze bunt. St. Thomas’s Crawford had a decent pitching line surrendering only two earned runs while giving up seven hits and striking out three over six innings of work, but it wasn’t enough today against Vargas.
There was far more activity in game two of the series. The Bison started the action in the first inning when Emily Buringa doubled to right-center with one out. Dez Cardenas then lined a single to left moving Buringa to third. Then St. Thomas starting pitcher Megan Baniecke forced Cameryn Maykut and Reanna Rudd into back-to-back groundouts to strand them.
The Bison got on the scoreboard in the third. Molly Gates singled to center with one away. Then Buringa doubled to right — enter scoring Gates to put the Bison up 1-0. Buringa would reach third on Cardenas’s fielder’s choice ground out but was left stranded when Maykut also grounded out to end the inning.
In the Tommies’ fourth, Bison starting pitcher, Lainey Lyle, issued a lead-off walk to left-fielder Coryn Jacobson. But Baniecke’s bunt attempt was caught, and Jacobson was doubled off of first for a double play, the first of two double plays for the Bison in the game.
In their fifth, the Tommies’ lead-off batter reached base when first baseman Katie Goelz singled off Lyle. Goelz moved to second on Sydney Mickett’s sacrifice bunt, but Lyle struck Nicole Pieper out looking and forced catcher Maddie Grad into a ground out to end the threat.
The Bison would score again in their half of the fifth. Nicole Licea led off the inning with a single. She would be forced out when Skylar Padgett’s hit into a fielder’s choice. Gates then doubled down the right-field line to put runners on second and third. Padgett scored on Buringa’s fielder’s choice to make it 2-0 NDSU. Then Dez Cardenas struck again with a double to left that scored Gates. It was Cardenas’s second hit of the game and fourth of the day and gave the Bison a 3-0 lead.
Both teams would get their lead-off batter on base in the sixth and both teams would have their lead-off batters erased by a shortstop to second to first double play to keep the score 3-0 in favor of the Bison.
In the seventh, the Tommies threatened again. Lead-off batter Sarah Hudson singled. Following Hudson, Mackenzie Rudy drew a base-on-balls from NDSU’s Lyle. Then the Tommies’ Katie Goelz hit a grounder to Bison third baseman Goetschius who stepped on third to force Hudson out. Lyle got Mickett and Pieper to both ground out to second base to end the game.
Lyle took the win, her sixth Summit League win on the season (6-1). Her earned run average (ERA) in Summit League play is 1.83. She scattered four hits and walked three while striking out two Tommies.
The top three hitters in the Bison line-up, Gates, Buringa and Cardenas, were a combined 6 for 9 and knocked in all three Bison runs, while also scoring two runs. Cardenas went 4 for 5, with a walk, in the doubleheader while Buringa went 3 for 6 and knocked in the game-winning run in both games. Cardenas was happy with her performance at the plate. “I feel that the last couple of series has not gone as well as far as my at-bats,” said Cardenas. “I was really happy that I was able to be productive for my team today.” Mueller echoed her thoughts. “It was nice to see because the last couple of weeks she hasn’t been as ‘on’ as she has in the past,” said Mueller. “Yeah, Dez had a really good day.”
An even more ferocious wind out of the south greeted both teams and fans on Saturday for the series finale. A few balls were hit today that would have ordinarily left the park but ended up as flyball-outs. On senior day, Snohomish, Washington’s Mac Schulz was given the start for the Bison while the series’ game one starter for St. Thomas, Christina Crawford, was on the hill for the Tommies.
The Tommies threatened immediately in the top of the first. A lead-off single by Brooke Ellestad and another single by Coryn Jacobson put runners on first and second with one out. Sarah Hudson hit into a fielder’s choice to move the runners up, but Megan Baniecke grounded out to shortstop to end the threat.
In the Bison second, after a Chloe Woldruff lineout, Avery Wysong reached on Tommies’ shortstop Brooke Ellestad’s error. Then Nicole Licea walked. Wysong was forced out at third on Skylar Padgett’s fielder’s choice. With two out, Molly Gates drove a pitch deep, one of those that should have left the park, that fell into Jacobson’s glove for the third out, stranding two runners.
In the Tommies third, right fielder Mackenzie Rudy hit her own deep drive that should have put the Tommies up 1-0 but fell harmlessly for the third out of the inning.
In the Bison half of the third, both Emily Buringa and Cameryn Maykut hit long drives that should have been home runs, but ended up as outs two and three, respectively, of the inning.
In their half of the fourth, the Tommies struck gold. With one out, Sarah Hudson lined a single to left. Baniecke followed that with another single to left. Schulz then issued a walk to her counterpart, Christina Crawford, to load the bases. Katie Goelz then knocked in Hudson with a sharp single to left to put St. Thomas up 1-0. Coach Mueller then replaced Schulz with Paige Vargas. St. Thomas Head Coach Jennifer Bagley Trotter then brought in Grace Bennett to pinch hit for Nicole Pieper. Bennett hit a sharp liner to third which NDSU’s Woldruff was unable to field, scoring Baniecke to put the Tommies up 2-0. Vargas then struck out Mackenzie Rudy for the second out and coaxed Kaitlyn Raymond into popping out to the shortstop to end the inning.
The Bison never really threatened after that until the seventh. Avery Wysong drew a lead-off walk from Crawford. After Nicole Licea flew out to left, Skylar Padgett grounded out to third for the second out. Molly Gates stepped up to the plate and hit a quick sinking fly ball to left. St. Thomas left fielder Coryn Jacobson ran up on it but could not make the catch and the ball rolled to the fence. Wysong scored from second on the play while Gates advanced to third and was called safe on a very close play. Then, Buringa drove another well-hit ball to left-center, but the wind knocked it down and Jacobson hauled it in for out number three.
Crawford (8-11) got the win for St. Thomas while Schulz (3-5) took the loss for the Bison giving up one earned run over her 3 1/3 innings pitched. Goelz led the way at the plate for the Tommies with a two for three performance and an RBI. Meanwhile, Gates, Maykut and Woldruff had the three Bison hits with Gates collecting the lone RBI.
NDSU softball bids farewell to five seniors
Nicole Licea, Cameryn Maykut, Mac Schulz, Paige Vargas and Avery Wysong all played in their final home game at Tharaldson Park on Saturday.
Next up — The Fighting Hawks at the Summit League Championship
NDSU will face in-state rival North Dakota in the opening round of the Summit League Championship Tournament this week in Sioux Falls, S.D. The Bison and Fighting Hawks are scheduled for a 4:30 p.m. start at Jackrabbit Stadium on Wednesday with the winner to face the league’s number two seed, Omaha, the following day. The Bison are the tournament’s number three seed and North Dakota is seeded sixth.
Coach Mueller is confident, and the team will be ready to go, especially the pitching. “Yeah, I feel good about our pitching. Paige [Vargas] and Lainey [Lyle] have had a good year,” said Mueller. “Paige has had some tough losses but pitched well. So, I’m feeling good about our pitching heading into the conference.”
The Bison and Hawks split the two games they played this season with North Dakota winning 11-10 and the Bison winning 7-3 in the second game of a doubleheader played at Tharaldson Park in Fargo. The games were originally scheduled for Grand Forks but were moved to Tharaldson Park when rain made the fields at Apollo Sports Complex unplayable.
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