Winona State finds itself in a familiar position heading into the final day of the NCAA Central Regional softball tournament. Just like they did in last week’s NSIC Tournament, the Warriors need two wins over Augustana on the final day to take the tournament crown.
They came up one game short last week. This week, they’re hoping for a better outcome.
WSU fell into the loser’s bracket of the double-elimination regional tournament on Friday at Maynard R. Johnson Field as they lost to Augustana 4-0 in their first game of the day. They went on to defeat Missouri Western 5-2 in their second game to earn a trip to the sub-region championship where they need to beat Augustana twice in a row.
“That’s a quality ball club,” Jones said. “They seem to put the same three hitters up to bat every inning. It’s just the repetitive nature of who they are and what they are, they’re just going to get you. It’s so hard to shut them down.”
Last Saturday, the Warriors needed four wins in one day — including two against Augie — to win the conference tournament. They won the first game against the Vikings 1-0, but fell 8-1 in the second game as Augustana took the NSIC Tournament Championship.
This time they just need two wins. They have to beat the Vikings twice in a row — a feat they managed in the regular season when they swept doubleheader 9-7 and 6-5. But the battle has tilted toward Augustana in the last two meetings.
“All year we’ve been — whether it was the streak we were playing for, or it was coming back through the loser’s bracket in the conference tournament — what this team was able to show was their resiliency,” Jones said. “They’re a tough group. They play for each other. And they stay out of their own heads in that way. We talked about it before the game — it’s a great day to fight, it’s a great day to battle.”
The Warriors struggled to get the bats going in Friday’s loss to the Vikings, managing just two hits and got only two runners into scoring position. And Augustana seemed to figure out what WSU pitcher Liz Pautz as they got through the order for a second time.
“They are good defensively, they are good offensively, they have good pitching,” WSU shortstop Lani Van Zyl said. “We always go toe-to-toe with them. They’re our reflection as far as we’re just as good as that. We didn’t come up with the big hit. We had the opportunity to do so and kind of just got pitched around and didn’t take overly aggressive at-bats and let some pitches go by.”
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The Vikings opened the scoring in the third inning as Mary Pardo — making her second plate appearance — drove in Maggie Dunnett with a single up the middle. Samantha Eisenreich then broke the game open for the Vikings with a three-run home run to right-center field to push their lead to 4-0.
“Coming out of the game, all you’ve got to do is just spin the ball hard,” Pautz said. “They adjusted the middle time through the order. They’re a good hitting club, they’re going to score runs when they want to.”
Pautz was strong early, striking out four batters while allowing just one hit in the first two innings. And she settled down again late after giving up the home run, allowing just two more hits. But the Vikings did their damage.
Needing a win to stay alive and get another shot at Augustana, the Warriors defeated Missouri Western in a loser’s bracket game.
The Griffons struck first, putting a run up in the top of the fifth, but WSU answered right back with four runs in the bottom half of the frame.
Alison Nowak singled in Lani Van Zyl, Riley Stout singled in Makenna McCarthy, and Jen Giesey doubled in Rhiannon Reinardy and Ann Smolenski.
The Warriors then added a run in the sixth as Smolenski drove in Van Zyl with a double to center field.
Jordyn Kleman earned the win for the Warriors, allowing two runs on four hits with 12 strikeouts and no walks.
The sub-region final between Winona State and Augustana is at 1 p.m. Saturday back at Maynard R. Johnson Field. If the Warriors win, they will play a second game.