STORY BY MICHAEL WENDLANDT
For the first time since 1993, the Drake softball team can claim the title of Missouri Valley Conference champions.
“It is such a great accomplishment,” senior pitcher Rebekah Schmidt said. “Anyone can win on any given day, so the fact that we were able to pull out the best record is really awesome.”
The Bulldogs cemented their title on Saturday afternoon by sweeping a doubleheader against Illinois State. The Bulldogs took four of their six games the past week, sweeping Creighton and Illinois State in doubleheaders while falling to Nebraska and then to Illinois State in the season finale. Drake held a slight lead on over Missouri State going into this final week and needed to win their remaining two series to win the conference, and they got the job done.
The week started in Lincoln, Nebraska as the team traveled to take on the Cornhuskers. Against their Big Ten foe, the Bulldogs fell 7-2 as the defense struggled, committing two errors in a five-run sixth inning.
On Wednesday, the Bulldogs remained in Nebraska but traveled to Omaha to take on former conference foe Creighton University. This time they got the job done, taking down the Bluejays twice.
In game one the Bulldogs won a squeaker by a score of 1-0 behind a solo homer by Schmidt in the top of the seventh inning. Luckily for the Bulldogs, that was all the team needed as a result of freshman Nicole Newman’s pitching in the circles.
Newman earned MVC Newcomer and Pitcher of the Week thanks to her career-high 17 strikeouts, the most strikeouts in a game by a Bulldog pitcher since 2011.
“It’s a great feeling,” Newman said. “I couldn’t do it without my pitching coach or my catcher back there.”
The second game was also tight until the seventh inning when Drake broke out for four runs to win it 5-1. Nybo also hit her 34th home run, which set the all-time Drake record.
Drake would clinch the conference title on Saturday with a doubleheader sweep over the Redbirds. Game one was much like the first Creighton game as it ended 1-0. Schmidt was the star of the contest, going the distance on the mound while matching a career-high with 11 strikeouts and no walks. She also drove in the only run of the game, an RBI single that scored Nybo in the second inning.
In Game two, Drake dominated Illinois State from start to finish, scoring six runs in the first inning on their way to a 9-0 victory. Schmidt also continued her breakout season at the plate with the big blow, a grand slam in the first inning. Freshman Kelsey Wright also added a solo home run later in the game while Newman struck out nine on the mound. With the title clinched, the team had one more game to wrap up the regular season and to prepare for the conference tournament.
On Sunday the regular season concluded as the Bulldogs fell 7-1 to Illinois State as Schmidt struggled in the fourth inning after dominating early on.
Drake concludes the season at 32-20 overall and 19-8 in conference play. Nybo led the way at the plate this season with 37 RBIs and 11 home runs while hitting .333. Megan Sowa won the batting title with a .344 average.
From the circle, it was Schmidt who led the way with 19 wins. Newman also picked up 13 wins of her own while striking out 172 batters in only 129 innings. Newman led the team with an ERA of 1.89.
Drake travels to Wichita to play in the conference tournament this weekend. The Bulldogs have a double bye as a result of their first place finish in the regular season.
“Such great team dynamics and chemistry,” Schmidt said. “Definitely my best year, no matter what happens this weekend I will hands-down say it is my favorite year.”
The Bulldogs will play their first game of the tournament on Friday at 12:04 p.m.