SMSU SOFTBALL: Mustangs drop doubleheader to St. Cloud State

Photo by Sam Thiel SMSU’s Megan Cull delivers a pitch during game one of their doubleheader against St. Cloud State University on Sunday at Mattke Field at the Schwan Regional Event Center. The Mustangs fell to the Huskies in both games by scores of 1-0 and 7-3.

MARSHALL – The Southwest Minnesota State University softball team got to do something not many teams in the state have been able to achieve so far this season: play a true home game.

Playing on a converted Mattke Field at the Schwan Regional Event Center, the Mustangs hosted the St. Cloud State University Huskies on Sunday afternoon. Unfortunately, SCSU looked to play spoiler, as the Huskies recorded a 1-0 victory in the opener before taking the second game 7-3 to earn the sweep.

SMSU coach Jamie Dunn said it’s nice to be able to play back at home and was thankful for the effort it took from multiple people to get the field ready to play in a short amount of time.

“It’s always nice to play at home. It’s always nice for the girls to sleep in their own beds and it’s nice to have parents be able to come, especially for Senior weekend,” Dunn said. “We’ve been playing on turf pretty much the whole season so for this year, it hasn’t been much of an adjustment for us. It’s just nice for us to not be in a dome and be outside. It took the effort of a lot of people to make this possible because as of Wednesday, there was still quite a bit of snow on the field.”

In the opener, neither team could find much scoring as only one run was produced in total. After neither team scored in the first inning, the Huskies got on the board in the top of the second, getting a leadoff walk before SCSU came around on an RBI double to take an early 1-0 lead.

SMSU had an opportunity to make some noise in the bottom of the third, as Madysson Schliinz reached on an error before Emma Grote reached safely on a bunt single to advance Schliinz to third base. The Mustangs had a chance to bring both runners around to score, but couldn’t capitalize with a strikeout and a flyout to end the inning.

Neither team could produce much offense the rest of the way, as the game quickly turned into a pitcher’s duel. SCSU’s Kate Kopeck earned the victory in game one, allowing just five hits while striking out eight in the shutout. Meanwhile, SMSU’s Megan Cull went toe-to-toe with Kopeck, allowing just four hits while striking out a career-high 10 batters.

Dunn said she was pleased with the pitching performance from Cull and how she has stepped up late in the season.

“It was an excellent performance from Megan. You hate to see two losses overshadow her performance because she had a career-high 10 strikeouts and then at least a couple more in that second game,” Dunn said. “Megan’s really stepped up her as of late and when your pitching staff is kind of struggling, you need somebody to step up, want the ball and take that lead and Megan’s been that person for us. She had an excellent performance and if she doesn’t throw as well as she does, then it’s a whole different story in the first game.

Grote and Kali Tomlinson led the way offensively for the Mustangs with a pair of hits each.

In the nightcap, the Huskies were able to jump out to another early lead, this time scoring in each of the first three innings. SCSU started the scoring in the top of the first on a RBI sacrifice before getting an RBI single in the second to take a 2-0 advantage.

In the top of the third, the Huskies kicked off the inning with a leadoff single before drawing a walk to put runners on first and second with no outs. Both runners would eventually come around to score on a ground-rule double to make it 4-0 in favor of SCSU.

After a scoreless fourth inning, the Huskies added to their lead in the next frame, scoring two more runs to take a 6-0 advantage. The Mustangs wouldn’t go away, however, as SMSU responded with three runs of its own to get on the board.

Madison Krog and Grote connected on a pair of singles before Abbie Decker reached on an error to load the bases for SMSU. Bailey Johnson then stepped up and reach on another SCSU error, scoring a pair of runs in the process. The next batter Tomlinson connected on a liner down the left field line to bring in another run and cut the deficit in half at 6-3.

The Huskies were able to add another run in the top of the seventh to push their lead to 7-3 to help earn the sweep.

Athena Golling took the loss in the circle, giving up four runs on five hits while striking out three in 2 2/3 innings. Johnson then came on in relief for her first collegiate outing, going 3 2/3 innings while allowing three runs and striking out two.

Dunn gave credit to SCSU but was proud of the way her team has stepped into roles they’re not comfortable with and play as a team.

“First of all, give credit to St. Cloud State; that’s a good team. They’ve beat some good teams this season so I knew we were going to have to have a good performance offensively and defensively. We’re a little dinged up right now; it’s not ever an excuse but we’re down a pitcher and down a shortstop and those are two pretty key positions,” Dunn said. “We’ll continue to just rally together and some people are going to have play some positions they’ve not played before. Bailey did a great job and she really hasn’t pitched since her final game of her senior year of high school which was in July. Just to compete and put together the performance we did on the field, I’m really proud of their effort and their willingness to do whatever it takes to play together as a team.”

Not only did Sunday mark the home opener for the Mustangs, but it also was Senior Day, as the team honored its lone senior, Mackenzie Clouse.

Dunn said Clouse has put in a lot of hard work to get to where she’s at today and has made a tremendous impact both on and off the field.

“It’s always neat to see someone come in as that wide-eyed freshman not really knowing what to expect or if she was even going to make the team. She came in as a walk-on and through her persistence and work ethic, she made the team and she’s been solid for us behind the plate for the last three years,” Dunn said. “She learned a lot and took everything in as a freshman, sophomore year she played a little more and then her junior and senior years she’s started just about every game for us. We’re going to miss Kenzie a lot behind the plate and she’s a great person and teammate. She really epitomizes what it means to be a part of the Mustang softball program and she’s a great student and overall wonderful person.”

SMSU (10-21) will try to break its six-game losing streak today with a doubleheader against the University of Minnesota Duluth at noon at the Schwan Regional Event Center.

Dunn said they will have to have another solid pitching performance as well as be more aggressive on offense to earn a win against the Bulldogs.

“We just have to continue to have solid pitching and we’re going to have to be a little more aggressive on offense,” Dunn said. “They’re (Duluth) a great hitting team so if we can keep the ball down in the zone and hit our spots we’ll have a chance. We’re going to have to outscore them and once they get going, it’s tough. We need to have solid pitching, good defense and aggressive bats and hopefully we can compete and come out with some wins.”