SIOUX CITY, Iowa – Midland University’s softball team took to the road again on Sunday and came away with its second consecutive split against a conference opponent.
The No. 20 Warriors (20-6, 10-2 GPAC) cruised to a victory in game one, but dropped an extra-inning nail-biter in game two to the Briar Cliff Chargers (8-24, 3-13 GPAC). It was the Chargers’ first win in 11 games and just their third conference win of the year.
“I was upset with the mental toughness and focus of our team,” said Midland head coach Mike Heard. “We had moments where we played well, but we need to learn to play a full game. Every pitch counts, and we need to learn it’s not something that we can just turn on when needed.”
Midland won game one against the Chargers in just six innings thanks to the eight-run mercy rule. The Warriors scored two runs in the top of the sixth inning on a Sierra Athow home run to go up 8-0. This came after the Warriors scored five run in the top of the fifth inning that blew their lead open.
Senior starter Jaylee Hinrichs was solid as always, pitching five innings and only allowing one hit in her outing. Senior reliever Madison Plummer came on in relief for the final inning after the Warriors opened up their lead. Plummer allowed a pair of hits but no runs as she preserved the win for the Warriors, which improved Hinrichs’ record to 12-2.
Game two was much more competitive as the Chargers jumped on Midland starter Hailee Fliam in the first inning. Briar Cliff notched four hits and three runs in the inning, making it the second consecutive start that the freshman has struggled in the circle to begin a ball game.
Fliam went just 1.2 innings before giving way to Plummer in the second inning after another base hit. Plummer surrendered an RBI double to Rachele Heaton that allowed Bailey Nichols to score another run charged to Fliam as Briar Cliff went up 4-0.
The Warriors battled back and scored a pair of runs in the fourth inning as Katlin Anders and Sierra Athow scored on a two-RBI double from Brianna Brabec. The Chargers answered right back and scored two more runs of their own on a two-RBI single from Alayna Allen, putting Briar Cliff up 6-2.
Midland responded again and nabbed three runs in the top of the fifth inning on four hits. Andrea Cespedes, Anders, and Athow provided the RBI base hits in the inning and the Warriors pulled to within one.
In the bottom half of the inning, Plummer ran into trouble as Hinrichs came on in relief to keep Briar Cliff from adding to its lead.
In the seventh inning, the Warriors needed a run to tie the game and got it on a solo home run from Anders, her fifth of the season. Hinrichs pitched a scoreless bottom of the seventh and the Warriors forced extra innings.
After a scoreless top of the eighth for Midland, Briar Cliff put runners at second and third with one out after a walk, a single, and an outfield error by the Warriors.
In the next at bat, Heaton hit a sacrifice fly to centerfield as Sarah Kach scored from third. However, Bailey Nichols took off from second base early and was thrown out at second for a double play for Midland.
After discussion, the umpires ruled that the run had crossed home before the third out was recorded, giving Briar Cliff a walk-off win to snap what had been an 11-game losing streak.
The strange play at the end left the Warriors surprised and upset as they dropped yet another conference road game, moving them down to second place in the GPAC standings.
“The good news is we feel we still have all our goals in front of us,” Heard said. “However, we’ll need to figure this out quickly if we are going to achieve those.”
Midland has home doubleheaders scheduled this week that could majorly impact the GPAC regular season title race. On Tuesday, Midland plays Concordia at home, as the Bulldogs currently sit in third place in the conference. Then on Thursday the Warriors will host the Morningside Mustangs, who now sit atop the regular season standings.
Each game this week is important if the Warriors want to hang on in the race for the conference title. Game one on Tuesday, April 16, versus Concordia is set for 3:00 p.m. at Christensen Field.