North Dakota State University rode the arm of pitcher Krista Menke, an opportunistic offense and stingy defense to win three games Saturday, May 10, and force a second Summit League Softball Championship game against Fort Wayne at 10:30 a.m. Sunday, May 11, at the Ellig Sports Complex. The Bison defeated Western Illinois 9-1, IUPUI 6-0 and Fort Wayne 3-1.
NDSU (34-16) plays in its sixth straight Summit League championship game since. It's the third straight season the Bison will face off with Fort Wayne (40-14) in a second and deciding game. NDSU won tournament in 2012 played at Kansas City, while the Mastodons claimed the tourney crown in 2013 at the Ellig Sports Complex. It's the fourth time the Bison are going the distance in Summit League tournament play.
Menke, a 5-foot-11 junior from Friend, Neb., threw 382 pitches including 237 strikes over the course of 20 innings to record three wins on Saturday. She struck out 27, scattered 15 hits, walked seven and hit three batters in the 20 innings. Menke bounced back impressively after allowing 14 hits and 14 earned runs over nine innings in her first two starts against IUPUI and South Dakota.
Menke, who improved to 27-7 overall and 4-1 in tournament play, worked out of trouble in all seven innings against Fort Wayne. The Mastodons stranded 12 baserunners during the game as NDSU came up with alert defensive plays from left fielder Martiza Lopez-Portillo, first baseman Brandi Enriquez, right fielder Jenna Isbel, second baseman Cheyenne Garcia and shortstop Logan Moreland.
Moreland, a 5-8 sophomore from Woodland, Calif., turned a pivotal double play in the bottom of the seventh inning after Fort Wayne scored one run. She took a deflection off Menke's glove up the middle, moved to her left, stepped on the bag and snapped off a throw to complete the double play. It was NDSU's 12th double play of the season and first since March 21 vs. Kansas City. Moreland also chased down a wind-blown pop up in left center.
North Dakota State had its hands full with Fort Wayne's Miranda Kramer, the Summit League Pitcher of the Year. Kramer (20-9) carried a shutout into the sixth inning. Garcia doubled down the right field line with one out and then scored on Jenina Ortega's misplayed fly ball in right center. Ortega ended up on the third on the play and scored on Amanda Grable's sacrifice fly to make the score 2-0.
The Bison tacked on an insurance run in the top of the seventh inning. Lopez-Portillo walked, moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Enriquez and scored on Alex Sobrero's two-out single through the right side.
Fort Wayne made things interesting in the bottom of the seventh. Larissa Franklin singled, advanced to second and scored on Ashleigh Bousquet's RBI single. NDSU turned the double play, but the Mastodons countered with singles from Hillary Kartman and Beka Ferguson to put runners on first and third. Menke notched a strikeout to end the game.
Menke struck out 10 and walked to reach double-figures in strikeouts for the fourth time this season and sixth time in her career. Kramer, who leads the nation in strikeouts, finished with eight, scattered six hits and walked two. Franklin went 3-for-4 for Fort Wayne, while Moreland had two hits for the Bison.
North Dakota State took advantage of three hits, three errors, pair of wild pitches to score four runs in the top of the third against IUPUI (24-24) in the loser's bracket final. The Bison scored first in all three games Saturday and improved to 26-5 on the season in that category.
NDSU extended the lead to 6-0 in the top of the fifth inning. Lopez-Portillo lined a two-run home run into the wind over the left field fence with two outs. It was Lopez-Portillo's fourth home run of the season and first since Feb. 28 against Idaho State. Her home run was one of two hit during the three games Saturday after the Summit League tournament had seen 34 home runs leave the Ellig Sports Complex during the first seven.
Lopez-Portillo turned in a key defensive play with two outs in the bottom of the third inning. IUPUI had runners on first and second when Taylor Chitwood singled to left. Lopez-Portillo threw a strike to catcher Ortega to cut down the runner at the plate and end the inning.
Menke kept the Jaguars' batters off-balance and allowed only two hits to record her ninth shutout of the season and 21st in her career. She struck out nine and walked five.
Jocelyn Oppenhuis (10-11), Emili Escamilla and Nikki Thomas pitched for IUPUI with Oppenhuis taking the loss. The trio combined to scatter six hits, walk four and strike out three.
North Dakota State started the day at 8:58 a.m. with the six-inning win over Western Illinois. The Bison took a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the second inning. Ortega led off with a single and Grable followed with a two-run home run well over the left field fence. It was Grable's eighth home run of the season and 27th of her career.
Western Illinois cut the deficit to 2-1 in the top of the third inning. Briana Williams led off with a walk, advanced to second on Sammy Marshall's sacrifice, went to third on a balk and scored on Nina Maggio's squeeze bunt.
NDSU pushed the lead to 4-1 in the fourth on an Enriquez double to left center and Sobrero's two-out RBI single to right. Ortega tripled to the right field corner and scored on a wild pitch in the fifth inning to make it 5-1.
The Bison closed out the scoring with four runs in the sixth inning, taking advantage of three hits and a pair of errors. Ortega and Sobrero each had RBI singles.
Menke struck out eight, allowed three hits and walked two in the win. Kayla Kirkpatrick (7-5), Hailey Bickford and Teagan Walsh pitched for the Fighting Leathernecks with Kirkpatrick taking the loss. The trio allowed 12 hits, strike out two and walk one.
All nine players had at least one hit for NDSU as Ortega went 3-for-4 with two runs and Sobrero 2-for-4 with a pair of RBI. Marshall had two hits for Western Illinois.