By Denny Weller Special to The Free Press
The Mankato Free Press
---- — MANKATO — It certainly wasn’t the way the No. 11-ranked Minnesota State softball team envisioned ending one of the most successful seasons in program history.
For the second consecutive day, a late Mavericks’ rally came up short as Emporia State claimed a 3-2 victory in an elimination game of the NCAA Central 2 Regional Tournament at The Diamond. Just as a two-run homer was the difference in Friday’s 5-3 loss to Southeastern Oklahoma, Andrea Piezuch’s two-run blast Saturday afternoon was the deciding blow.
“It was a hard fought battle,” veteran Minnesota State coach Lori Meyer said. “It’s hard right now for them to think about the successful year because this was such a tough loss. The end of the season is in their immediate minds right now, but they have to look back at all they accomplished.
“Nobody can take away what this team has accomplished. With time, the kids will be able to reflect back. For five weeks through the conference season, they were the best of the best.”
After wiggling out of bases-loaded jams in the fourth and fifth innings, freshman right-hander Coley Ries got nicked for a run in the top of the sixth. Catcher Jacie Stephens drew a one-out walk, and No. 9 hitter Madsion Rich delivered a two-out RBI triple.
Ries (23-8) went the distance for the Mavericks, allowing eight hits while striking out five and walking three.
Emporia State (47-13) extended its lead to 3-0 in the seventh when winning pitcher Kaitlyn Caston laced a two-out single up the middle and Piezuch followed with a shot over the right-field fence.
Caston (34-8) then ran into some trouble in the Mavericks’ final at-bat before closing out her complete game seven-hitter with one strikeout and three walks.
“We fought hard that last inning, but it just didn’t work out,” sophomore DH Emily Branksy said. “We had some hard hits, they just didn’t fall where we needed them to.”
Minnesota State (43-13) made one final charge after leaving the bases loaded in the fifth frame. Sophomore center fielder Tatum Klein and junior first baseman Chelsea Riordan ripped singles before sophomore right fielder Karli DesLauriers lined out to shortstop. After Bransky’s infield single loaded the bases, senior shortstop Samantha Holien came through with a run-scoring single.
Senior All-American catcher Lindsay Erickson then drove in a run with a line-out to center field before Caston retired Anna Cole on a fly out. Klein and Bransky led the Mavericks with two hits each while Tricia Vogel was the lone Hornet with a pair.
“We were definitely excited at the end,” Erickson said. “It’s MSU ball, and we’re not going to go down without a fight. We knew with the bases loaded that all we had to do is get the ball on the green. If the ball moved two feet to the right it would have been a different ball game.”