SIOUX CITY | Lexie Linderman, the Great Plains Athletic Conference’s leader with 72 RBIs, doesn’t like leaving teammates on the bases.
So Linderman took advantage of the times when her Hastings teammate, Cara Williams, walked. Linderman hit an RBI double to the right field corner in the first inning, then smacked a two-run home run in the third as the second-seeded Broncos edged top-seeded Morningside in the last of three games to claim Monday’s GPAC Softball Championship Series 5-4 at the Jensen Softball Complex.
“I get disappointed when I (leave runners on base),” said Linderman, a .411 hitter. “I go up there and I tell myself, see the ball, hit the ball, you can do it. I just give myself as much confidence as I can because if anyone’s negative about an at-bat, like if you struck out in an at-bat before, you’re not going to get it done.”
Heading into the NAIA National Tournament Opening Round, which will begin May 15 (pairings will be announced at 6 p.m. Wednesday), Hastings has 60 round-trippers. Corrin Ziepke hit a solo homer in an 8-1 loss to Morningside earlier on Monday and Josie Bumgardner smacked a grand slam in a 5-2 victory as Coach Troy Baker’s 36-23 Broncos evened the best-of-three tournament format at a game apiece.
“Losing when we were up 1-0 in the bottom of the sixth and they come back and they get eight is deflating as a team, but our team responded,” said Baker. “We wanted to be here, we wanted to fight and that’s exactly what we did. Playing Morningside, which has a great team, a great program and a great coach (Jessica Jones-Sitzmann), we had to battle all day. We earned everything we got. It’s a great tune-up for the national tournament, playing here at Morningside.”
Morningside (38-10), of course, will host the NAIA National Tournament Opening Round. The only question Jones-Sitzmann has is where her team will be seeded.
“I’m assuming we won’t move much in the final national ratings, but you never know,” said Jones-Sitzmann. “Everyone else is sitting idle. Us and the Northern Star are the only tournaments that are going on right now.”
Throughout the day, the Mustangs struggled to score runs from the first to the fourth innings. Morningside, which heads into the Opening Round hitting .322 as a team, was no-hit for 4 2/3 innings by Ashlynn Clifford in the final game of a long day where the temperature approached 90 degrees.
Clifford had retired 15 consecutive Mustangs before walking McKenzie Anderson with two outs in the bottom of the fifth. Mara Amsberry then rapped her second home run of the season, a two-run shot over left field, to pull the Mustangs within three runs.
Clifford (4-2) retired five straight Mustangs before walking Moriah Bohlmann with one out in the bottom of the seventh inning. Allie Martinez then belted her third home run of the season, a shot that went off the left field foul pole.
“I saw something where she left it elevated and I wanted to turn on something,” said Martinez. “That was my whole game plan going up there. It felt really good. I hadn’t been hitting well the whole day. It just felt really nice to do something for my team.”
Bumgardner (13-6), the Game 2 winner, then relieved Clifford. Bumgardner, tops in the GPAC this season with an average of 7.64 strikeouts per game, coaxed Anderson to ground out and then fanned Amsberry to end the game.
“I told the girls this has been a very good season,” said Jones-Sitzmann. “We just came up short. We couldn’t get timely hitting. We need to be able to score early and string some things together. We’ll be fine. We need to clean things up so we can be ready for next week.”
Rachel Henks, who equaled Whitney McElrath’s 2006 single-season record 33 wins in Game 1, had pitched throughout the second game and left after pitching just one inning of the third game.
Andrea Medinger pitched 3 2/3 innings of relief, but after allowing consecutive RBI singles to Chloe Boeka and Ziepke in the fourth and issuing an intentional walk to Linderman to load the bases, Henks re-entered.
“(Henks) is doing good,” said Jones-Sitzmann. “She’s helped this team all year long and ranks high in the country in opponent’s batting average. She moves the ball around. She’s not throwing the same pitch at the same time. Stamina-wise, pitchers in softball and baseball are different. In softball, you can throw a whole bunch.”