By Jim Rueda
---- — MANKATO — A week ago, Winona State head softball coach Greg Jones was watching the NCAA selection show and keeping his fingers crossed that his Warriors would get into the regional tournament.
They did ... and they won.
Winona State went 3-0 in the Division II Central Region 2 Tournament at Minnesota State over the weekend, capturing the title and ending the season for the host Mavericks in the championship game. WSU knocked off Minnesota State 4-3 in nine innings on a walk-off, bases loaded single by Brittany Stewart.
“Last Sunday was a long day sitting down and sweating whether we were going to make it in or not,” Jones said. “When the bids came out and we were in, the kids seized the opportunity and I think it shows a lot about them.”
The two main players in Sunday’s dramatic finish were the senior Stewart and pint-sized pitcher Ashley Walker. Stewart came to the plate with the bases loaded and two outs in the ninth and promptly drilled a single through the left side to end the game.
“I was just saying to myself see ball, hit ball,” Stewart said. “After Morgan (Lintz) was walked I said there was not going to be a better opportunity than right here, right now.”
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Walker picked up her third victory in as many tries against the Mavericks this year. She pitched all nine innings, giving up three runs on seven hits, striking out five and walking one.”
The right-hander said the familiarity with the lineup helped a little bit but it was more due to the help from her teammates.
“My defense did the job all weekend,” she said. “Mankato is a great team so we knew we were going to have to play well to win.”
The Mavericks jumped to a 2-0 lead in the top of the first as Abby Sonner and Sam Holien both singled in front of Anna Cole’s two-run base hit. The Warriors tied it in the third when Brooke Piotrowski ripped an RBI single and Walker drew a bases-loaded walk.
In the top of the fifth, Tatum Klein singled, stole second and came around on Lindsay Erickson’s base hit for a 3-2 MSU lead. Winona State tied it again in the bottom of the sixth as two walks and a single loaded the bases before Piotrowski smacked a run-scoring base hit
Both teams had opportunities in extra innings but it was the Warriors who capitalized first. A leadoff single in the bottom of the ninth by Jordan Petersen, a single by Walker and a walk to Lintz set the stage for Stewart’s heroics.
MSU coach Lori Meyer tipped her hat to the Warriors when it was over.
“Give them credit, they’re a good team,” she said. “They came in here and played the most consistent defense and offense of all the teams here this weekend. And Ashley Walker is a very good pitcher.”
Senior right-hander Courtney McKelvogue went the distance for the Mavericks, giving up four earned runs on 10 hits, fanning one and walking four. She completed her final campaign with a 25-9 record.
After walking off the field for the final time, the always cool and calm McKelvogue reflected on the end of her career. The special education major will be graduating in December and has plans to get married next May.
“I thought about (the end) a little bit a couple of weeks ago,” she said. “It’s kind of bittersweet. Would I have rather gone to the national finals than lose here, of course, but it was going to end at some point and you have to move on.”
Senior Lauryn Morris was disappointed with the loss and said she’ll need some time to absorb it.
“You don’t think about how quick it’s going to end,” she said. “But I enjoy the game and I love helping younger girls get better so I’m sure, at some point’, I’ll get back involved in it.”
Winona takes a 37-12 record into the Super Regional. MSU ends the 2013 season at 40-12.