ST. GEORGE – With the tying run on base and two outs in the seventh, Saint Martin’s University had exactly the person it wanted at the plate Thursday night against Dixie State.
Facing down the Red Storm pitcher, Saints cleanup batter Taviah Jenkins needed to connect solid on one pitch to complete a furious seventh inning rally and perhaps carry her team to victory. Jenkins, who has a .641 slugging percentage and leads SMU with 11 home runs, took DSU reliever Aryn Feickert to a full count, then inexplicably went down looking for strike three. The nationally-ranked Red Storm avoided the upset in the first round of the regional, winning 7-5 at Karl Brooks Field in the first round of the NCAA Division II Regionals.
Dixie State starter Michelle Duncan had pitched a one-hit shutout heading into the top of the final inning. The game was delayed twice due to lightning after starting two hours late due to similar delays in the opening game.
“Duncan pitched a great game,” said Dixie State head coach Randy Simkins. “When a pitcher warms up, cools down, has to warm up again, cools down, warms up again—that takes a toll on any pitcher. There were some bad hops and a few plays where we should have been out of the inning much earlier.”
The first six innings from Duncan were masterful. The first four batters she faced were retired with exactly four pitches. The fifth batter she faced was the first to take a called strike. It was not until the sixth batter that Duncan threw a ball. The 10th batter, Mary Dettling, broke up a perfect game with a single in the fourth inning.
Duncan then retired the next seven batters. Through six innings, she retired 18 of 21 batters, using only 65 pitches. She allowed one hit and walked one. A third base runner was hit by pitch.
The Red Storm batters got Duncan a big cushion. Marla Reiter singled in Courtney Hine to give Dixie an early one-run advantage in the first. In the third inning, Janessa Bassett opened with a triple. She scored on a fielder’s choice by Nicole Chavez. In the fifth inning, Hine doubled the lead with a double, scoring Chavez and Bassett.
“Hine is very good at working pitcher to a hitter’s count,” said Simkins. “She gets more hits at the 2-0, 2-1 and 3-1 counts. She probably has had more hitters’ counts this year than most batters get in a career.”
In the sixth inning, Chavez hit a three-run homer over the left center fence. “It was an inside pitch and a little high,” said Chavez. “I was excited to see that pitch.” The dinger gave the Red Storm a 7-0 advantage heading into the final inning.
“We had a plan coming in,” said Saints coach Rick Noren. “Obviously we did not get the job done in the first six innings. Duncan does what she does. She is super effective, mixing up speeds, going in and out. This game is about confidence and mental toughness. Hopefully we can learn from this and come back strong tomorrow.”
Saints right fielder Mary Dettling, the only batter to get two hits off the Dixie pitcher, explained the team’s mindset going into the final inning, “Duncan has really got good speed. I tried to get sight of the ball at her hip on delivery and make sure I snapped that wrist. Just be aggressive.”
Duncan started the seventh inning striking out Jenkins. Dani Wall singled down the third base line for SMU’s second hit. Taylor Wolf pinch ran for Wall. Kim Nelson, who came to the plate with a .077 batting average, singled to right center, advancing Wolf to third. Christina DeMar then singled to right field, scoring Wolf. Wilson took Duncan to a full count then walked on the 11th pitch, loading the bases.
Slate then fouled out to Gelter at third. With two outs, the Red Storm still held a 7-1 lead. Dettling, after fouling away five pitches, singled to right field, scoring Nelson. Hannah Wesselman reached on a fielding error by Autumn Woodfall, scoring Jackie Schmaeling, who had entered the game to pinch run for DeMar. Sam Munger singled to left, scoring Dettling and Wilson. In all, Duncan threw 41 pitches in the seventh inning. Simkins had seen enough and called for Aryn Feickert to face the Saints’ power hitter, Jenkins.
“In the NCAA tournament, it is ‘survive and advance,’” said Simkins. “In that respect, we are happy with the win.”
When asked what the Saints batters did differently in the seventh, Duncan’s response was succinct. “They hit the ball. They did not give up.”
Duncan moves to 25-0 on the season with the win. Feickert gets credit for her first save. SMU’s ace, Sam Munger, falls to 23-6.
Saint Martin’s falls to the loser’s bracket and will face Chico State Friday at 1:30 p.m. in an elimination game.
The Red Storm will face familiar nemesis and PacWest rival California Baptist, 8-1 winners over Chico State. Game time is set for 11 a.m. Friday.
The loser of Dixie State-California Baptist will play the winner of the elimination game at 4 p.m. Friday. The winner of that game will advance to the championship game on Saturday.
Stats: DSU 7, SMU 5
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