Mesa State softball team eliminated by Winona State

WINONA, Minn. — They played their way into May, and even though the Mesa State College softball team was swept in the NCAA Division II Super Regional tournament by Winona State, the Mavericks left looking toward the future.

“I think we can have a regionally competitive team every year,” coach Kris Mort said. “If I’d have asked what you would give up to get here … at the first of April it was unimaginable. What they built and how they hung on, they could have quit, and a lot of kids their age would have quit.

What they built I don’t think they can wrap their heads around how magnificent what they accomplished really is.”

Mesa State lost 8-0 to Winona State University in the second game of a best-of-three series Saturday, sending the Warriors (49-11) to the NCAA Division II Elite Eight in Salem, Va.

Winona sophomore Stacey Struzynski threw a five-inning no-hitter, striking out eight and walking three.

“She’s a good pitcher, an excellent pitcher,” Mort said.

Cierra Lard drew the start for the Mavericks and had Mesa State in the game, but two errors in the second inning led to a pair of unearned runs, and Winona added a run in the fourth.

“I pitched like crap the last time I pitched and it meant a lot that they had confidence in me to throw this game,” Lard said. “That helps me get stronger. Games like this where they put me in where the stress level is high can only help me.”

The wheels came off in the fifth when Lard gave up a two-run home run that was just out of Gabi Parra’s reach in center field.

She was replaced by Sara Jordan, who gave up a home run on her first pitch, and another two-run home run that bounced off the top of the three-foot-high fence in left.

The Mavericks (30-21) could never challenge Struzynski, who got out of a jam in the second inning when Lauren Cross reached on an error and Meagan Hennessy walked with one out.

Katie Mitchell bunted them into scoring position, but Kristen Silva’s nubber was fielded by Struzynski and Silva was thrown out at first.

After that, the Mavs got only one runner on, a walk to Jordan leading off the fourth. Struzynski, only a sophomore, struck out four of the final five batters to win the title.

That Mesa State was even in the Super Regional was a surprise after being 13-15 and in danger of even reaching the RMAC tournament. The Mavs finished second there, getting them a bid to the regional playoffs, which they swept through to get to the final 16.

“It couldn’t have ended any better,” senior catcher Meagan Hennessy said. “Being able to turn things around …”

Mort attributed the turnaround to her five seniors, who were determined to succeed and bring the young players along for the ride.

“It has nothing to do with me and everything to do with the senior leadership,” Mort said. “Their ability to put personal differences aside. When they put their cleats on, they zipped their issues in their bags and came out with confidence.

“That’s the challenge for the groups ahead of them. It’s not going to be the physical talent, it’s can you master the chemistry the way these kids did.”

Hennessy, whose home run Friday was the only run the Mavericks scored on the weekend, said she thinks the players returning can carry on what they’ve learned.

“Oh yeah,” she said. “From where we were before, them being able to see how it’s supposed to go, they can.”

Cross, who made two all-region teams this season, as a third baseman on the Daktronics team and as a utility player on the National Fastpitch Coaches Association team, will be one of the players the Mavs rely on next season.

“We’ve got a lot to live up to,” she said. “We’re going to miss our seniors.

“We didn’t even think we’d make it into May back in March. To get in the RMAC, do well and then move on … We left the drame off the field and I’ve never been on a team that did that. That’s huge.”


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