Pitching, defense paramount against Tigers

The softball team has won 17 of the last 18 games going into a Friday doubleheader in Hays, Kansas, against a 17-14 Fort Hays State team. The Tigers have been very up-and-down of late, earning a split with a 22-11 Central Oklahoma squad last week, but also splitting with Northeastern State, whose record is below 14-18 this season. Last season the Griffons swept the Tigers, going 2-0 against their conference foes. “The pressure they feel is making sure they are playing as best they can against conference opponents,” Griffon coach Jen Bagley-Trotter said. “We’re in that time of year where we’re facing all conference schools and I know that they want to do well in the conference and we’re watching the scores of the conference and seeing all the craziness that’s happening. We realize through learning through others' mistakes that we need to focus on us and making sure that we’re controlling us every time we go out and if we are doing that, we’ve put ourselves in a good situation to win the game.” During the 2014 season former MWSU standout Jackie Bishop picked up both wins while pitching 13 1/3 innings and only allowing two runs to Fort Hays State batters. Current Griffon ace Janie Smith recorded five outs in the doubleheader and only allowed one hit while striking out three Tigers. Smith will likely climb the hill in at least one of the contests this year. The junior carries a 12-5 record and a 3.14 earned run average on the year. Complementing Smith and getting the other start is Shyanne Saladino. She sports a 13-4 record this season with a 3.53 ERA. Paxton Duran and Kelsey Kimminau anchor a stellar pitching staff for Fort Hays State. Duran has a 9-6 record and has a 2.55 ERA, while her sidekick in the rotation Kimminau is 7-7 with a 2.95 ERA. The Tigers’ pair of pitchers have been snake bitten by the defense behind them so far this season, whereas the Griffon defense has been much more solid. Each staff has surrendered only 81 earned runs all season but the Tigers’ defense has allowed 39 unearned runs. Western has given up less than half that number. The Griffon defense has only given up 18 unearned runs this year. “It's important to continue to drill the small things so we continue to do little things right,” Bagley-Trotter said. Defense should play a huge factor in these pivotal conference showdowns on Friday afternoon as the Griffons look to expand their winning streak to 20 games. Griffon to Watch: Tiffany Gillaspy is the leader of the Western attack and has been leading the Griffon offense during this win streak. For the season, Gillaspy has been very impressive with a .431 batting average, nearly 60 points higher than the next Griffon. The second baseman also has a team-high in home runs (12), doubles (8), runs scored (38), and runs-batted-in (34). In her last 20 games, the Griffon standout has only failed to collect a hit in 2 games. She also has two multiple-homerun games during that stretch. The senior has managed to do all of this while playing a new position this season. The recent hot streak offensively for Gillaspy may also be attributed to her stellar defensive play of late in the field as she settles into her new position. Gillaspy has only committed 3 errors in her last 20 contests. Tiger to Watch: Tori Beltz occupies the third spot in the Fort Hays State batting order. The junior from Rose Hill, Kansas, sports a .320 batting average, which is second among the Tiger regulars. The first baseman leads the club with six home runs and 26 RBI this year. She also has nine doubles. The Tigers don't hit for very much power as a team with only 17 bombs on the year, but Beltz is their primary threat for the long ball. The Tiger star leads the team with a .598 slugging percentage as well.

Griffons go 6-0 in home tourney

The Griffons seem invincible during the month of March as they push their win streak to 12 games after going 6-0 during the Apple Market Classic. During the Western hosted tournament, the team outscored opponents 36-5 on their way to six straight tournament wins, which improved their overall record to 21-9. Head coach Jen Bagley-Trotter attributes the recent success to the team for continuously playing well in all facets of the game. “It was nice to see us put all three parts of the game together,” Bagley-Trotter said. “We’ve had signs of good defense and we’ve had signs of good hitting, but we’re finally in a stretch where we’ve put it all together and we’re seeing wins because of it.” Western opened the first day of the tournament against the Mankato Mavericks, who the Griffons had previously lost to by a score of 1-2. The Griffons took an early 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning off of an RBI double from second baseman Tiffany Gillaspy. Both teams would be held scoreless in the second and third innings, but in the fourth inning third baseman Katie Klosterman cracked a solo home run to move Western’s lead to 2-0. The Mavericks managed to tie the game by scoring two runs off of a Griffon error in the top of the fifth inning, but Western quickly regained the lead off of a sacrifice fly RBI from Gillaspy in the bottom of the inning. Designated hitter Paige Shifflett drove in one more run for the Griffons with her own solo homer in the sixth inning which led to a 4-2 victory over Mankato. In game two of the tournament, against the Northern State Wolves, Western once again jumped to an early 1-0 lead when center fielder Morgan Rathmann doubled, stole third and made it home off of an error. Two more runs were added to the Griffons lead from Gillaspy’s single in the fifth inning. Western shutout the Wolves through the whole game, giving the Griffons a 3-0 win. The Griffons put on an offensive showcase again in game three against the Concordia-St. Paul Golden Bears starting with a solo home run from Gillaspy and an RBI single from Shifflett for a 2-0 lead in the first inning. Western scored three more times from a successful steal home in the third inning and a Rathmann RBI single as well as another Gillaspy homerun in the fourth inning. The Golden Bears finally scored their first run in the top of the sixth inning to bring the score to 6-1. During the bottom of the sixth inning, the Griffons scored four more runs including two runs off of a homer from right fielder Brooke Schaben to hand Western a 10-1 win. Through the first half of the tournament, the Griffons had a combined batting average of .338 while accumulating 26 hits and outscoring opponents 17-3. The team’s confidence has everything to do with a strong offensive performance according to Gillaspy. “I think being confident and being smart at the plate [helps],” Gillaspy said. “We’ve played this game for a long time and after a while there’s no getting better, it’s just showing what we [the team] can do I think.” For game four Western was matched against their nemesis the No. 24 Augustana Vikings. The Griffons again struck first with Gillaspy scoring on a wild pitch in the first inning to take a 1-0 lead. They scored again in the second inning off of a solo home run from first baseman Kailey Green, pushing the score to 2-0. Green drove in two more runs to finish the game, batting a perfect 3-3 from the plate, which increased the score to 4-0. The Vikings scored their lone run in the sixth inning but could not gain any more ground as the Griffons beat their rivals 4-1. Western capitalized on another chance for revenge as they played the Wayne State Wildcats, who had beaten the Griffons earlier in the season 2-3. The Griffons gained a 4-0 lead after a two RBI double from Green in the first inning and RBI singles from Gillaspy and left fielder Sydney Washington in the second inning. The Wildcats scored their only run in the top of the third inning to bring the score to 4-1. Western was able to shut out Wayne State the rest of the game. The Griffons drove in three more runs, from Klosterman’s solo homer in the bottom of the third and a two RBI double from Gillaspy in the fifth inning, as they went on to defeat the Wildcats 7-1. Another ranked opponent stood in the Griffons way, for the sixth and final game of the tournament, as they faced the No. 14 Winona State Warriors. Western scored first for the sixth game in a row off of Shifflett’s RBI single in the third inning to give them a 1-0 lead. The Griffons scored four runs in the fifth inning to take a 5-0 lead, as Shifflett knocked another RBI single, Washington scored off of a fielder's choice and both Green and Klosterman scored on passed balls. They piled on three more runs in the sixth inning as Shifflett again hit an RBI single, Klosterman recorded an RBI double and shortstop Shelbie Atwell had an RBI fly out. The Warriors were held scoreless the entire game, giving the Griffons an 8-0 shutout win. Through the entire tournament Western accumulated 56 hits, had an overall batting average of .346 and outscored their opponents 36-5. With the victory over Winona State, Western improved their win streak to 12 games marking the third time in the last three years that the Griffons have had a 12 game win streak. Klosterman believes that the team’s efficient play in multiple areas of the game is what has led to the win streak. “I think our hitting, pitching and defense have all gone together so it's all meshing better than it was at the beginning of the season,” Klosterman said. “If that keeps happening then I think no team will be able to beat us.” The Griffons are constantly working hard to clean up their play as much as possible so they can continue playing at such a high level, explains Gillaspy. “We’ve worked on little things like playing the slow balls hard and going balls out for plays even if we can’t get to them and we’ve worked on stopping the extra base,” Gillaspy said. Although the team has been playing great, they have to remain consistent, according to Bagley-Trotter. “I think what we’re doing right now is good, but we have to make sure it’s not a spurt,” Bagley-Trotter said. “So when you talk about room for improvement, you’re talking about us putting things together in a consistent manor and making sure we continue to do the small things rights.” Western will have the chance to extend their win streak as they continue their home stretch with a double header against the Lindenwood University Lions on Friday, March 27.

Griffons sweep doubleheader versus Bearcats

The Griffons showed true talent in Tuesday's doubleheader against rival Bearcats. Game one kicked off at 2 p.m. Janie Smith was in the circle for Missouri Western. The front end of the doubleheader was a pitcher's duel. Western's Smith was throwing lights out, but so was Northwest's Sarah Baldwin. Both pitched the full game, but Smith just narrowly out-pitched Baldwin. In the bottom of the second inning, shortstop Shelbie Atwell doubled to right and scored first baseman Kailey Green. That RBI-double gave the Griffons a 1-0 lead that they would hold for the remainder of the game. Smith allowed three hits with no runs, one walk and four strikeouts. Head coach Jen Bagley-Trotter is seeing more confidence and development in her team. "We've had our ups and downs, but I think the fact that our defense is handling the ball better has been helping our pitchers handle the ball better," Bagley-Trotter said. "So, I just feel like, pitching aside, our team as a whole is really starting to find itself and embrace helping each other out." The Griffons had six hits and one run, but also had a fielding error when third baseman Katie Klosterman fumbled the ball and couldn't gain control in time to throw out the runner. Game two was a commanding offensive performance for Western. Shyanne Saladino took over in the circle for the second game. Center fielder Morgan Rathmann opened up the bottom of the first inning with a triple to deep center. She was able to score on a wild pitch, putting the Griffons on the board early on. In the bottom of the third inning, Western still held their 1-0 lead. With second baseman Tiffany Gillaspy up to bat, she cracked one to deep left center. Her seventh home run of the season would score Rathmann and right fielder Brooke Schaben. "I thought [Monday] I obviously did really good," Gillaspy said. "So, I came in today with some confidence… I was seeing the ball really well in the second game, so I think it was more of a confidence booster." The 3-RBI homer would give the Griffons a 4-0 lead going into the fourth inning. But, with two outs in the top of the fifth inning, the Bearcats drove in two with a double to right center from shortstop Rebecca Maher. It appeared as if the Bearcats could still fight for a comeback, but no such thing was going to happen. Right fielder Sydnie Washington scored catcher Rebekah Mueller with an RBI-double in the bottom of the fifth. Designated hitter Paige Shifflett came in for the next to crack a homer to left center. The 2-RBI home run would make it a 7-2 lead for Western. They would hold that score to finish the back end of the doubleheader. "We were seeing the ball kind of big yet from yesterday," Bagley-Trotter said. "So, it took us a little bit to kind of get into our groove and realizing that we're going to be facing pitchers that are going to hit corners and be selective. It just took a little bit for us to re-engage into that kind of softball." Saladino pitched a complete game with three hits, two runs, two errors, two walks and one strikeout. Western held on for the sweep of rival Northwest, extending their win streak to six games. They are now 15-9 overall and 6-2 in MIAA play. Western readies to play three doubleheaders this weekend as they host the 2015 Apple Market Classic. First pitch for game one of six is set for 10 a.m. on Friday, March 20.

Softball review KLM Invite

The Griffon softball team traveled north last weekend to St. Cloud,Minnesota. The Griffs played a five-game set and ended up going 2-3. All the games were played at St. Cloud State University’s campus in the Husky Dome, so the frigid Minnesota temperatures were avoided at game time. Missouri Western headed up to St. Cloud for the Kelly Laas Memorial Invite, a crossover tournament between the NSIC and MIAA. The tournament is in honor of the former St. Cloud Husky player Kelly Laas who passed away from cancer in 2011. Game one took place last Thursday at 8 a.m., but the early start and long drive didn’t slow the Griffons down as they shut out Concordia-St. Paul 3-0. To get the Griffon scoring started, Katie Klosterman singled to drive in Sydney Washington in the fourth inning. The Griffs would add their last two runs of the game in the sixth inning as Klosterman walked with the bases loaded to score Washington again. Then later in the inning, Page Shifflett scored on a wild pitch. One of the biggest stories of the game is the complete game shutout by the Griffons' Janie Smith. She limited the Golden Bears to five hits and picked up her third win of the season. Smith gave the credit to her team after the games. “The attribute to my success on the mound for both of those games was my team. They were complete team wins," Smith said. "The defense was excellent in backing me up. They helped me get out of a few pressure situations that were crucial. The offense did a great job as well of backing me up by not only putting some runs up but responding back when we were behind.” Kappes of the Golden Bears got the loss. Game two took place on Thursday at 2 p.m. The Griffons lost a tight one to the Minnesota State-Mankato Mavericks – a school that has been a pest to almost all Griffon sports in the last five years. The Mavericks started the scoring in the third with a single, then double that plated two for them. The Griffs would score in the fourth  on a triple by Kailey Green that scored Klosterman to make it a one-run ballgame. Shyanne Saladino pitched well in the game, giving up only two runs on six hits in seven innings, but the Griffon bats couldn’t find an extra run for her. Saladino ended up with the tough-luck loss and Coley of the Mavericks got the win. Coach Jen Bagley-Trotter pointed out that the odd playing field of the Husky Dome may have caused some adversity for the Griffons. “Against Mankato, Sydney Washington would have had a three-run homerun if not for the hitting the roof of the dome on the way out,” Bagley-Trotter said. In game three, Griffon softball faced an old foe in Augustana College – a team that the Griffons know all too well from the playoffs. The game was a rough spot for the two teams, as it didn’t start until around midnight. Augustana got out first with a two run homerun in the third inning. The Griffons struck back with a Shelbie Atwell double that drove in Green, Klosterman and Shifflett, putting the Griffons up 4-2. Augusta tied it up at 4-4 with a double and a sac fly in the sixth. In the final inning, Shifflett hit an RBI single to score Riley Wilson to take a one-run lead. The Griffs put on some extra when Taylor Schaben scored on an error by Augustana’s first basemen. Smith got the start again going five innings, giving up five hits and four runs; she picked up the win in the rivalry game. “It was a great feeling beating them. It's always great defeating a rivalry team,” Smith said. Saladino cleaned up the last two innings giving up only two hits. Pickett of Augustana was saddled with the loss. Coach Bagley-Trotter said the Augustana game was “a great team win.” Game four was another tightly fought game for Western softball, as the Griffs fell by only one run to Wayne State College. Wayne State picked up a run in the first with a sac fly, putting them up 1-0 in the first. They scored again in the fifth on a fielder’s choice, making it a 2-0 Wayne State lead. The Griffons came charging back in the top of the sixth to tie it up with a single by Atwell to score Washington and a single by Green to score Atwell. Tied up at 2-2 in the bottom of the sixth, Western gave up a run to go down 3-2; the Griffs couldn’t tie it back up in the seventh to force extra innings. Smith was on the mound again for Western. She gave the Griffons six solid innings, with only six hits and three runs, but ended up with the loss. Miller of Wayne State won with a complete game. The final game of the five-game set was against the team holding the tournament: St. Cloud State University. Chalk it up to St. Cloud getting to sleep in their own beds and the Griffons worn out from the road, but the Griffons fell 2-10 in five innings. The Huskies scored eight runs in the first three innings, putting Western in quite the hole. Green did homer in the fourth for the Griffs to make it an 8-2 game. St. Cloud got it back the next inning, though, making it 10-2 and ending the game. The Griffons trotted out three pitchers in the game. Saladino, who pitched 2.1 innings, was stuck with the loss. The Griffon softball team returns to MIAA action in their next series on March 6 against North East Oklahoma State.  

Western faces familiar opponents as MIAA play begins

After playing in three nonconference tournaments, the Griffons will finally face a familiar opponent as they begin their conference play against the Northeastern State RiverHawks. In Western's previous nonconference tournament, the LAAS Memorial, the team pitched a shutout in the opener, defeating Concordia-St. Paul 3-0. However, they went on to lose three out of the next four games, leaving the tournament with an even 7-7 overall record. The Griffons open MIAA play on the road against Northeastern State. The RiverHawks are currently 6-4 overall, but have compiled a six-game win streak. Neither team has played a conference match, but Northeastern State is currently ranked above Western at No. 4 and No. 7 respectively. Making the transition from nonconference to MIAA play brings different aspects to game preparation that can be both an advantage and disadvantage to the Griffons explained second baseman Tiffany Gillaspy. "For nonconference, we don't always know the competition and who's going to be playing, but in the MIAA, we know the hitters and pitchers. Scouting reports get passed around in the MIAA," Gillaspy said. "The coaches in the MIAA are returners and know where to pitch us and how our pitchers are. Luckily, this year, Shyanne [Saladino] is new to the MIAA, so it will throw them off. So, right now we are working on being mentally tough and being consistent." Saladino transferred to Western, and is now a force inside the circle, leading the team with a 3.62 ERA along with Janie Smith, who is second with a 4.81 ERA. Western will lean on third baseman Katie Klosterman and left fielder Sydney Washington to lead the offensive front. Klosterman leads the team with a .360 batting average, while Washington is second with a .333 average. Head coach Jen Bagley-Trotter expects the team's freshmen to step up, as well, like they have during nonconference games. "Our freshmen are stepping up in some pretty big situations and producing for us, which has me excited for the future," Bagley-Trotter said. "We have about 10 days here to get it figured out and put all of the pieces together so we are capable of going in there and taking care of business." The RiverHawks will attempt to counter the offensive output of the Griffons with outfielder/second baseman Jessica Boone and shortstop Madison Boyd, who lead their team in batting average with .471 and .455 respectively. Before MIAA play begins, and to avoid losing close ball games, Bagley-Trotter has an honest answer as to where the Griffons need to improve. "We have to quite honestly get tougher; thats going to be the big approach," Bagley-Trotter said. Although playing regional games is fun, finally preparing, and eventually beginning, MIAA games is exciting for multiple reasons, according to Gillaspy. "The MIAA is filled with such great competition, and we get to play at home in front of our student body; that's fun," Gillaspy said. "MIAA competition is exciting and fun when you know the other team." The Griffons continue the road streak with a conference opener against the Northeastern State Riverhawks in Tahleqah, OK. First pitch is set for noon on Friday, March 6.