Red Storm offense comes alive as DSU earns trip to NCAA championship game

EDMOND, Okla. – A venue change may have been just what the doctor ordered for the Dixie State offense. The Red Storm pounded out 13 hits and plated 10 runs on the way to a 10-6 come-from-behind victory over California University of Pennsylvania Sunday evening in the NCAA Division II National Tournament semifinals.

dsulogoRainy weather and rough field conditions prompted NCAA Tournament officials to move the location of the final two days of the D-II softball championships north of Oklahoma City to Edmond. The all-turf field of the Oklahoma Christian University Eagles was a stark contrast to the chopped-up field conditions in Oklahoma City.

“The turf helped us come alive offensively,” said Storm right fielder Courtney Hine. “We knew if we found pitches we could hit hard that the ball would maintain speed.”

Unlike DSU’s 1-0 win over the Vulcans in Friday’s first round, this game would see both starting pitchers struggle. Red Storm pitcher Aryn Feickert was impressive in relief, spelling starter Michelle Duncan and allowing just one hit and one unearned run in five-and-a-third innings. Dixie State trailed 5-3 when Feickert entered the game.

The Red Storm, who began their third consecutive game as the visitors, jumped out immediately against the survivors from the losers bracket, Cal-Pa. Janessa Bassett drew a walk against Vulcan starting pitcher Alex Sagl. Nicole Chavez then rocked a triple to score Bassett. Sagl was replaced after just two batters by relief pitcher Megan Uher. Courtney Hine then lined a hit that bounced off Uher’s glove, allowing Chavez to score.

In the second inning, the Vulcans came back in a big way. Jacquelyn Fowler began the inning with an infield single to short. Hailey Wilson bunt sacrificed Fowler to second. Megan Jahoda then drew a walk. Erica Ballecorsa singled through the right side, loading the bases. Courtney Sinclair drew the second walk of the inning to score the first run. It was the first run Duncan had allowed in the entire tournament.

Kaity Finley then hit the ball sharply to third baseman Brooklyn Beardshear. Beardshear’s throw home was in time, but errant, allowing two runs to score and bringing the tally to a 3-3 tie. Emily Price grounded out to a diving Chavez, but it was good enough to bring Sinclair home for the go-ahead run. For the first time, Dixie trailed in the tournament, 4-3. Lindsay Reicoff then singled down the left field line to score another run. DSU coach Randy Simkins then brought in Feickert for Duncan, who finally showed some fallibility after beginning the tournament pitching 15 shutout innings.

DSU pitcher Aryn Feickert | Photo courtesy DSU Athletics
DSU pitcher Aryn Feickert | Photo courtesy DSU Athletics

“I spoke to Aryn (Feickert) yesterday during practice,” Simkins said. “I told her that even though she had not seen much action (at nationals) that I still had 100 percent confidence in her. I also told her that she would probably be entering the game facing a tough situation and that we would need her to get us out of it. And she did.”

The Vulcans kept the pressure on by sending seven batters to the plate in the bottom of the third. Fowler hit a deep ball to left. Dixie left fielder Courtney Sherwin got a glove on the ball, but mishandled the catch, allowing Fowler to reach second. Wilson then singled to center to score Fowler, pushing the COP lead to 6-3.

The Vulcans loaded the bases with one out, but Feickert induced a Finley groundout to Gelter at third base, who fielded the ball cleanly and threw out Wilson at home. Price then flew out to center field to end the inning.

The Vulcan lead evaporated in the next half inning. Sherwin gained first base after getting hit by the pitcher. Kristie Johnson moved Sherwin over with a sacrifice bunt. Josey Hartman singled to center field and advanced to second on a throwing error. Sherwin scored on the play, making it 6-4. Bassett then singled through the right side, scoring Hartman. After Bassett stole second, Hine batted her in to bring the Red Storm even at 6-6.

The scoring did not end there. Marla Reiter singled through the left side, advancing Hine to third. Reiter then stole second. On her attempt, the catcher threw to the second baseman who was attempting to catch Reiter between bases with a tag. The errant throw ended up going under a leaping Reiter and ricocheting off the second baseman into right field.

“I saw the second baseman coming up and all I was doing was trying to avoid her tag,” said Reiter. “There were two outs and I knew if I got tagged, Courtney (Hine) doesn’t score and the inning is over.”

Hine scored on the error and Reiter advanced to third. Sheila Gelter then singled through the left side to score Reiter for the Storm’s final run of the inning. The five-run rally had Dixie State back on top, 8-6.

Feickert would not need any more run production, though DSU still put up two more insurance runs in the sixth. Chavez singled to center on an 0-2 pitch. Hine then singled down the right field line. Chavez had to hold her position at first to make sure that the catch was not made. After the ball fell Chavez made it all the way to third. Hine then stole second. The next two batters, Reiter and Gelter, then hit consecutive sacrifice flies to score the two base runners.

In the bottom of the sixth inning, Feickert got the two first batters to line the ball back to her, recording both outs. Feickert, who had to take a medical redshirt her sophomore year due to a concussion from a line drive, seemed unaffected.

“Out on the mound, I was thinking of how I had thrown two mistake pitches and how I was relieved to get the batters out,” Feickert said. “But afterwards back in the dugout it hit me and I started shaking. Coach (Maggie) Christensen pulled me aside and was able to help me calm my nerves and finish the game.”

Josey Hartman
Josey Hartman

Feickert, who had yet to make an appearance in the finals, did not allow a Vulcan runner to get into scoring position after the Storm retook the lead. She got her 20th win of the year and stands at 20-5. Uher took the loss for the Vulcans to fall to 10-3. Hine, Chavez, Reiter and Hartman all collected multiple hits with Hine and Hartman going 3 for 4.

“Josey Hartman has really played big here,” said Reiter. “Her hitting and base running have really been timely and crucial.”

Gelter had two RBIs with a hit and a sacrifice.

“Bassett and Hartman are so fast,” said Simkins. “There were a couple of times where everyone in the park knew they were going to steal. There was not anything that catcher could do.”

DSU stole seven bases in the game. Conversely, in three games there has not been one steal even attempted against Dixie State.

“Marla Reiter is a first-team All-American catcher,” said Simkins. “There have only been 11 total attempts all year in 60 games. That number is incredible. And she has thrown out seven. That is a big boost to our defense, knowing that the opposing team respects her too much to even test her.”

The Vulcans close the year at 43-13 with both losses coming to Dixie State in the tournament. The Red Storm move to 52-7 and remain unbeaten at Nationals. They will play  No. 6-ranked North Georgia in a winner-take-all championship final.

North Georgia escaped elimination by beating Shorter in two consecutive games Sunday.

Stats: Dixie State 10, Cal-Pa. 6

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Twitter: @oldschoolag

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2015, all rights reserved.

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