NORTH MANKATO — A missed scoring opportunity along with a botched pop-up late in the game cost the Aussie Peppers Sunday night at Caswell Park as the Beijing Eagles gained a 3-2 women's National Pro Fastpitch win in front of 612 fans.
"It was really fun to get out here and show the Australians what the Mankato area has to offer," Peppers' starting pitcher and Eagle Lake native Coley Ries said. "China has had six competitive games already while it was the first for us getting out on the field together.
"We've got some things to work on, but we also had some good things happen so there's going to be good things for us to come. There's a little bit of getting used to getting back into game mode.
"I felt good about my spins, there's some little details here and there to get if a little bit more off the plate. Nicole (Newman) is going to be a great addition because she complements us really well. There's probably and eight mile per hour difference between her and I so it will be hard for the hitters to adjust."
Ries, who allowed two runs on eight hits over four innings while striking out five and walking one, was referring to No.1 draft pick Nicole Newman. Newman, a 6-foot-1 hard-throwing right-hander from Drake, was the tough-luck loser despite giving up just one hit over three frames, striking out seven and walking one.
"I was excited to get out there," Newman said. "I had a great catcher (Cammie Sorenson) who was able to calm me so it was exciting and it's going to be fun to see what else is in store.
"This is a new team for me and the girls are fun people to be around. They have a big goal ahead of them so their very passionate and excited. ... It's great to be around those kind of people."
Beijing plated a first-inning run against Ries when Victoria Draper bounced a one-out single through the hole, moved up on an infield out and scored on Yang Huiqi's soft single into left field. After Ries worked out a second-inning jam, the Eagles tallied a run an inning later on Kendall Vesch solo shot over the left-field fence.
The Peppers evened things in the fourth off former Auburn left-hander Angel Bunner, who gave up two runs on seven hits while striking out nine and walking one.
Left fielder Tahli Moore smacked a triple to deep right field and Sorenson followed with a run-scoring double to straight-away center field. After Bunner recorded a fly out, center fielder Maddie Cameron split the left-center field gap for a game-tying double.
"The crowd was awesome and we're excited for (Monday) and the rest of the year," said Sorenson, who led the Peppers with two hits. "We have a very big tournament coming up in September, but until then we're taking each day at a time.
"We're working on doing the little things correctly so we're ready for September. I felt comfortable in the box, had a plan and stuck with it. ... We have to communicate with each other and adapt when we need to."
It looked like the Peppers might strike for the go-ahead run in the bottom of the sixth when Sorenson caromed a one-out triple off the center-field fence. However, Bunner struck out the No. 4 and 5 hitters — Taylah Tsitsikronis and Cameron — to keep things even. Beijing pushed across the game-winner in the top of the seventh when Yan Siyu punched a single into left field and eventually scored on a dropped pop-up.
"Maybe it was first game nerves but it was unfortunate to not make a play we should have," Peppers' coach Lang Harrow said. "We had a good combination pitching tonight. Coley really hits her spots and mixes it up while Nicole came in with her rise-ball moving and they were chasing a little bit.
"It was a solid effort from our pitching staff. It was a little disappointing to get a runner on third base and then follow it up with two strikeouts. ... It's early and we just have to get tougher mentally in the box."
Shannon Keevers also collected a pair of hits for the Peppers. The Mankato-based franchise continues the five-game series with Beijing with a 7:05 p.m. game today at Caswell Park.