Home at last

Tigers overcome early errors to salvage split in home opener vs. Fairmont

Photo By Jake McNeill Marshall outfielder Justine Kirst slides into home plate for a run during the first game of a softball game against Fairmont at the Marshall Softball Complex on Thursday afternoon. The Tigers split their home doubleheader against the Cardinals, dropping the first game 7-5 before bouncing back for a 5-1 win.

MARSHALL — The Marshall softball team hosted Fairmont on Thursday night for its home opener, a long-anticipated date that’s been pushed back due to consistent poorly-timed wind and rain. The Cardinals rained on Marshall’s parade in the first game, capitalizing on Tiger miscues for a 7-5 victory, but the Tigers rallied behind a stellar pitching performance from Morgan Bjella in game 2 to bounce back for a 5-1 victory.

In the day’s first game, the Fairmont Cardinals capitalized on some early Tiger errors to jump out to a lead with four first-inning runs.

Brylee Miller started the first-inning rally with a single and Makayla Lowry reached on a Marshall error to put both runners in scoring position. Nevaeh Rahm took advantage of the opportunity with a two-run single up the middle to give Fairmont the lead.

Ava Terfehr kept the run going with another single, putting runners on the corners with no outs. A strikeout and a pop out started to shift momentum in the Tigers’ favor but Ilana Moeller singled to drive in another pair of runs, giving Fairmont a 4-0 lead after the first. 

“Hitting is contagious. You get the first couple to hit the ball hard and then everybody starts to do that,” Fairmont head coach Cory Hainy said. “It was good that we got those runs because then we kind of gave up a big inning a little bit later.”

Defensive struggles plagued the Tigers throughout the game. Marshall finished the game with five errors, resulting in four unearned runs. Fairmont, meanwhile, committed just two. 

“It’s like a ripple effect for us,” Marshall head coach Stacey Baedke said, saying that the girls’ ability to feed off each other can manifest for better or for worse. “We always talk about how you bounce back from failure. How are you going to bounce back from that one simple error? We just talked about chill, focusing on the next play, taking your mind off the last one and moving forward.”

Baedke added that she felt the team’s tendency to commit errors in game 1 was uncharacteristic and that she felt the girls did a good job of clearing the slate mentally for game 2.

The Tigers trailed 5-0 heading into the bottom of the fourth inning when they started to get back into the game offensively. Makenzie Olsen swung at strike 3 to start the inning but the ball was dropped. She beat out the throw to first to get on base safely and walks to Harley Beek and Jaina Dekker loaded the bases with no outs.

Claire Allen beat out an infield single to drive in the Tigers’ first run of the game. A runner interference call on a collision at shortstop put one out away without allowing a run but Brielle Riess kept the rally going with an RBI single to short on the next play. 

Jayda Bednarek lined a ball to second base but Gabby Leiding came up with the grab to turn what could have been multiple runs into an out. Yet, the Cardinals’ attempt to turn the double play by catching Riess at first went awry and Allen capitalized on the error by sprinting home for a run. The play gave Marshall a 5-3 lead.

“That one inning went pretty bad for us. That’s about as bad as you can play and we were super lucky because they only got three runs out of it,” Hainy said. “We felt pretty bad about that inning but you come off the field still up 5-3… We’re still up, chill out and it was really good for us to put two runs back up on the board and take the momentum back.”

Aside from a fourth-inning hiccup, Rahm had a stellar day in the circle for Fairmont. The senior pitcher tossed the full seven innings, striking out six batters while surrendering seven hits and five walks. Of the five runs she allowed, two were unearned. 

“She’s grown a lot over the last few years. I told her after the game, I said, ‘Two years ago in the middle of that inning, you wouldn’t have come back from it,'” Hainy said of Rahm. “Let’s be honest, it wouldn’t have gone well. We would have had to take her out. We let her have a little bit more leash there and she got out of that inning and was back to being good again the rest of the game.”

Hainy also said that he and the rest of the team have plenty of confidence in Rahm and added that he still believes she threw well that inning, but defensive miscues added runs to her stat line that weren’t her fault.

Harley Beek got the start for the Tigers. While she allowed five runs on the day, only two were earned runs and only one came after the first inning. She struck out five batters while allowing six hits and three walks on the day., dropping to 1-3 on the season.

While Marshall seemed to have fought its way back into the game with a fourth-inning rally, the Cardinals responded just a half inning later with another offensive barrage of their own after Marshall relieved Beek with Bjella. Landin started the inning with a double to right field, just a step ahead of the outstretched glove of Naya Grahn, and she scored on a Miller single with one out. 

After Bjella got her second strikeout of the inning to put two away, Rahm singled to keep the inning going and a Marshall error allowed both runners to score before the end of the inning, extending the Cardinals’ advantage to 7-3. 

After allowing an earned and unearned run in her first inning in the circle, Bjella recovered to pitch another two shutout innings. She struck out seven of the 14 batters she faced without walking one. She also allowed just two more hits after allowing three in her first frame.

Marshall had one last chance to force extras in the bottom of the seventh, facing a 7-3 deficit. Halla Casavan and Olsen hit consecutive singles to start the inning and Beek followed up with another to punch in the first Tiger run. Dekker grounded into a fielder’s choice to punch in another but Rahm struck out each of the next two batters she faced to end the game. 

The Cardinals plated an unearned run in the top of the fourth when Lowry was hit by a pitch and Rahm and Terfehr each drew walks to load the bases with one out. Leiding hit a ground ball but a Marshall error turned what could have been a double play into a Fairmont run, making the score 5-0. Still, Marshall limited the damage with Casavan gunning a throw to Olsen at the plate to put one away and Beek caught the next batter swinging to end the frame.

Game 2

Marshall 5, Fairmont 1

Morgan Bjella struck out 16 batters in the second game of Thursday’s doubleheader to lead Marshall to a 5-1 bounce-back win.

The senior pitcher’s 16 strikeouts were her second-highest mark of the season, trailing only an 18-strikeout performance against Morris Area in the team’s nine-inning season-opener on April 9. Bjella also limited the Cardinals to just four hits and one walk on Thursday.

“Morgan has great control of her ball. She’s confident, she’s strong, and if she throws a ball, she’s not afraid to come back with a strike right away,” Baedke said. “She typically works ahead and she’s just great in the circle for us. Hitting-wise, she’s starting to come around. It’s good to see her break out of her shell a little bit but she just does a phenomenal job on the mound and I couldn’t say anything better about her.”

After four scoreless innings to start the game, Marshall plated the go-ahead run in the top of the fifth inning. Brielle Riess lined a single into left field with two outs to get on base. She stole second to get in scoring position and Jayda Bednarek came up clutch with a single to second base. Riess rounded the corner and, after some hesitation from Fairmont on the throw, she beat the ball to the plate for a 1-0 Tiger lead.

“After the first five innings, the game should have been 0-0,” Hainy said. “We gave them a run, they gave us a run, so it was a great pitcher’s duel. We just made a couple mistakes defensively in that seventh inning and it kind of got away from us. Tip my hat to Marshall, once we gave them an opening they hit the ball pretty hard.”

Rahm had a pair of hits in the day’s second game to finish with a total of five on the day. Bednarek, Beek and Bjella led the Tigers with three hits each over the course of the doubleheader, all of Bednarek’s coming in the second game. Bjella also doubled twice, making her the games’ only player with multiple extra-base hits.

The early game’s defensive struggles returned to haunt the Tigers in the sixth inning. Bjella retired each of the first two batters she faced in the game but Makayla Lowry reached base on a single. Rahm then hit a pop fly just in front of second base that could have ended the inning, but a defensive miscommunication allowed the ball to drop and Rahm to reach first. Lowry kept running to third and an errant throw allowed her to round the corner to first for the tying run, making the score 1-1. 

In the next half inning, Justine Kirst came back with some aggressive baserunning of her own. She hit a ball to shallow left-center field but, instead of settling for the single, she turned on the wheels and took advantage of Fairmont hesitating before the throw to turn the hit into a double. Naya Grahn then hit a pop fly to shallow right field but two Cardinals collided and allowed the ball to land safely and Kirst to advance to third. Riess then hit a sacrifice fly to deep center, allowing Kirst to tag up and give Marshall a 2-1 lead. 

Aggressive baserunning was something the Tigers were looking to emphasize in game 2, Baedke said. She added that Marshall has struggled with speed at points so having the team’s faster runners such as Riess go and try to steal a base was a focus point in a game where hits were hard to come by unitl the last two innings.

Now in control of the game, Marshall didn’t take its foot off the gas. Bednarek doubled to deep center field, just shy of the fence, to drive in another run and Bjella doubled to right-center field to make it 4-1. After a strikeout, Beek capped off the Tigers’ scoring run with a single to drive in Bjella.

“When they stopped putting pressure on themselves, hitting seems to come around,” Baedke said. “We all know hitting is contagious. When one hits, we all hit, so that’s the theme of this team. They feed off each other and we have some great leaders on this team.”

In the bottom of the frame, Bjella struck out the side to slam the door shut on any Fairmont comeback hopes.

Miller pitched all seven innings for the Cardinals, striking out eight batters. Prior to her seventh-inning struggles, she had limited Marshall to six hits and no walks in the game.

Marshall started the game strong in the first inning when Bednarek, Bjella, and Halla Casavan each reached base with consecutive singles to load the bases with one out. Yet, consecutive strikeouts got Fairmont out of the inning unscathed.

After Thursday’s split, Marshall now sits at 5-4 on the season while Fairmont moves to 7-6. The Cardinals will host Jackson County Central today at 5 p.m. while Marshall will next play at Waseca on Saturday at 11 a.m.


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

Today's breaking news and more in your inbox
Are you a paying subscriber to the newspaper? *

Starting at $4.38/week.

Subscribe Today