MARSHALL - The timing of a hit is almost always more important than the type of hit. Playing its first home games in three weeks, the Southwest Minnesota State University softball team learned just how drastic the impact of timing can be.
SMSU hit a pair of home runs in each game of a Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference doubleheader with Concordia-St. Paul at the Regional Event Center but split the twin bill with the Golden Bears.
"It's just the nature of the sport, it's incredible," SMSU head coach Missy Bruggeman said. "To come out on top to come out on the bottom, I guess the biggest thing to say from our standpoint is just consistency. Staying up for the second game or just getting started in the first game has just been a challenge for us this year. Having that consistency would be just a very nice addition to our team, but it's something that we're working towards. It's definitely a game of timely hitting and that surely showed the first and second game."
Photo by Travis Andries
Southwest Minnesota State sophomore Rachel Hoeppner tosses a pitch during Game 1 of a doubleheader against Concordia-St. Paul Thursday at Mattke Field at the Regional Event Center. Hoeppner struck out nine batters and gave up just one run in an 11-1 SMSU victory.
In Game 1, the Mustangs exploded for 11 runs in the final two innings of an 11-1 victory over Concordia. SMSU third baseman Morgan Peterson blasted a grand slam in the bottom of the fifth inning to give the Mustangs a 4-1 lead, while Jazmyne Neely's grand slam in the bottom of the sixth invoked the mercy rule. The power display came at the perfect time for the Mustangs, who mustered just two hits prior to the fifth inning.
"It was nice to see some good quality at-bats," Bruggeman said. "I think that's something that we strive for on a day to day basis. For Morgan, she's really the type of player that if she hits it she usually gets ahold of it. And Jazmyne, a freshman coming in, all year she's been battling for a spot and she's definitely made some adjustments to her swing that have allowed her to see some success at this level."
Neely went 3-for-4 with four RBIs in the game, while Peterson was 2-for-4, scored twice and drove in five runs.
Peterson and Neely's offensive heroics were only necessary due to the gutsy pitching performance by Rachel Hoeppner, who pitched herself out of three separate jams in the game, including a two-on, one-out spot in the top of the sixth with the Mustangs leading by three. Hoeppner allowed one run on six hits with six strikeouts in her six innings of duty.
"Pitching control is definitely important and the name of the game in softball," Bruggeman said. "Rachel Hoeppner did an excellent job throwing today. It was probably one of the best days I've seen her throw all year. That's good to see that consistency, now if we can get her to be at that level on a daily basis that's really going to help our program succeed in the future."
Game 2 also featured a pair of SMSU home runs, but Peterson's second of the day and Amy Dreessen's first came with no runners on base. The pair of solo shots merely chipped away at a 3-0 Concordia lead, built off of four hits and one Mustang error in the first inning.
Dreessen hooked her home run over the right field fence in the bottom of the first, while Peterson launched another over the left field wall in the second inning.
SMSU loaded the bases following Peterson's solo shot, bringing up team batting leader, Dreessen, with two outs. Dreessen grounded a 3-1 offering to the second baseman, and as quick as the ball was flipped to first the tide of the game had turned in favor of the Golden Bears.
Concordia scored six runs off of six hits and two errors in the top of the third, chasing SMSU starting pitcher Rachel Groff from the game. Hoeppner replaced Groff and pitched well in relief, giving up three unearned runs in five innings of duty. She also struck out nine batters.
"I hate to say it's a game of momentum, but all of sudden somebody gets a hit and now the team strings them together," Bruggeman said. "We're a little bit disappointed just in the way we finished today. It kind of goes back to the consistency that we've been trying to find."
After hitting so well for the first eight innings on Thursday, the Mustangs had just one base hit and four total base runners over the final four innings. Concordia starter Stephanie Kappes fanned nine Mustangs, while allowing two runs on five hits in her seven inning complete game.
SMSU falls to 15-21 on the season after the split (8-16 NSIC) and has four games remaining in the regular season. The Mustangs are slated to host Northern State for a double header on Saturday before closing out the regular season at home with a pair of games against Minnesota State-Moorhead on Sunday.
"It's been a long season but a short season," Bruggeman said. "I think long just in terms of being inside for an entire spring as opposed to last year when we were outside for a lot of our season; then short because we haven't been able to be outside very often. To be able to play on our home-ish field, it's a good feeling."
C-SP 001 000-1 6 1
SMSU000 047-11 10 0
C-Ashley Kluever; SMSU-Rachel Hoeppner. WP-Hoeppner. LP-Kluever. HR: SMSU-Morgan Peterson, Jazmyne Neely. 2B: SMSU-Neely.
C-SP306 000 0-9 13 0
SMSU110 000 0-2 5 3
C-Stephanie Kappes; SMSU-Rachel Groff, Rachel Hoeppner (3). WP-Kappes. LP-Groff. HR: SMSU-Amy Dressen, Morgan Peterson. 2B: C-Teona Zepeda, Bekah Roth. LOB: C-8; SMSU-6.