BY ADAM ROGAN
Drake split four games in a roller coaster weekend in Fayetteville, Arkansas, at the Razorback Invitational.
To continue two trends of the early Drake Softball season, the Bulldogs won a close game behind pitching from ace pitcher Nicole Newman against the University of Missouri – Kansas City Kangaroos on Saturday morning.
Even with Newman on the mound, however, UMKC would strike first.
A single scored two Kangaroos in the top of the second inning. Only one of the runs was earned, however, as a passed ball had moved the runners into scoring position.
With nobody out and the bases loaded in the top of the third, Newman escaped with only one more run allowed.
Two, two out runs scored in the top of the third, both unearned on account of a fielding error committed by Drake right fielder Melissa Schlotzhauer.
Down 5-0 with the game half over, the Bulldog offense needed to respond. And it did.
With two outs and runners at the corners in the bottom of the fifth, sophomore Kelsey Wright singled to put the Bulldogs on the board. Freshman Kennedy Frank then stepped up to the plate, and stepped up for her team in a big way.
She connected on a pitch and sent it over the right field wall for a two-out, three-run homer. Only one run separated the Bulldogs and Kangaroos.
After leaving one runner stranded in the bottom of the sixth, the Bulldogs needed to score one run in the seventh to stay alive.
Again, it was Frank who would deliver with the big play.
With runners on first and second, Frank hit a single through the infield to score Wright and tie the game.
Megan Sowa and Teryn Pena entered the batter’s box next, but neither was able to come through with a game-winning hit and the game entered extra innings.
Relief pitcher Kailee Smith stranded two in the top of the eighth to give Drake another chance to win it in the bottom of the inning.
With Pena on second and two outs, freshman Gabbie Jonas hit a ball deep into center to score the winning run – Drake’s second walk off thus far in 2016.
“I went up there and was like ‘Okay, try to do your best,’ and the outcome was better than expected,” Jonas said.
Against the Arkansas Razorbacks in the afternoon, however, Drake’s chance of comeback was miniscule at best.
The Bulldogs managed to score four runs in the five inning game, two of which were the result of errors. But the Arkansas offense made those runs appear almost non-existent.
Against senior pitcher Mariah McKinnon, the Razorbacks scored eight runs in two innings. Only six of those runs were charged to McKinnon, who was relieved by Smith in the second. She didn’t fare any better, allowing seven runs between the second and fourth innings.
“We have to work together on defense,” Jonas said. “That’s one of the big concerns going into this next weekend, just working together as a team.”
The game ended by mercy rule, 13-4 in favor of Arkansas.
After a night’s rest, the Bulldogs took to the field again on Sunday for rematches against the previous day’s opponents. And even if they faced the same teams, the results would prove to be the opposite.
Going up against UMKC for the second time in two days, errors plagued the Bulldogs defense. McKinnon finished the game with eight runs against, only one of which was earned in two innings of work.
“We had some defensive miscues … (that could be fixed) if we step up our communication and play more as a unit,” junior Kaitlyn Finneran said. “Very fixable mistakes.”
Smith didn’t do much better when she entered the game in the third. She gave up four runs in four innings. Again, none of them were earned.
Drake avoided a mercy rule loss thanks to a two-run homer from Frank in the third inning and a three-run rally in the fourth, but its offense wasn’t able to overcome its defensive faults. The game ended 12-5.
If the Bulldogs needed an outlet for their frustration after their last two blowout losses, they found it (and a bit of revenge) against Arkansas on Sunday afternoon.
With Newman back on the mound, the Razorback offense was held in check. She pitched a complete game, only allowed two runs and struck out six on the way to her fifth win of 2016.
Still, the Drake hitters didn’t give Newman the runs she would need for the win until it was almost too late.
Down 2-1, the first six Bulldog batters reached base in the top of the sixth inning and scored five runs in the process.
Finneran, Jonas, Newman and Pena all recorded RBIs in the inning. Jonas’ single was also extended her hitting streak to seven.
“I’m just trying to contribute as much as I can,” Jonas said. “When I get up there (at the plate), I try not to think thatmuch about it. I just try to do whatever I can when I’m up at the plate.”
Sophomore Tasha Alexander added a two-run home run for good measure in the top ofthe seventh to bring the final score of 9-2.
Nine games into the season, Frank is leading the team in on-base percentage (.529), slugging percentage (.857), homeruns (3), RBIs (10), and is tied for best batting average (.429).
For batting average, Frank is tied with Jonas. The two of them are closely followed by Finneran. She’s hitting .414 so far this season and is tied with Alexander for the team lead with seven runs scored.
“I just got to keep trusting in myself and trusting that my teammates will pick me up if I’m not doing well,” Finneran said.
The Bulldogs will travel to Las Vegas this weekend for the Alexis Park Resort Classic where they will play five games in three days.