Mentality. That was the word that Western Illinois head coach Beth Golitko repeated over and over heading into a three-game conference matchup against the South Dakota Coyotes this past weekend.
“Once again it is the mental, and just making sure we have the same consistency throughout the entire game,” Golitko said. “Sometimes we start off well, but then kind of go down in the middle of it, and pick it back up near the end, but then sometimes it is the exact opposite. So, I think our biggest fight is just keeping that same mentality throughout and not getting complacent.”
The Leathernecks had their mentality tested on Saturday, when they played a total of 20 innings of softball across two games of a doubleheader against the Coyotes.
Game one saw an early start by South Dakota, when center fielder Camille Fowler hit a leadoff triple in the top of the first off of Leatherneck ace Emily Ira. Fowler would later be driven in, when second baseman Alyssa Fernandez lined one straight back to Ira, who was struck by the ball, giving Fernandez an RBI infield single.
South Dakota starting pitcher Alexis Devers held the Leathernecks scoreless in the first two innings, but short stop Payton Abbott would see to it in the bottom of the third, which caused the Leathernecks to make a change.
Abbott drove a Devers pitch to deep left center field for a two-run shot to give the Purple and Gold a 2-1 lead. A pitcher’s duel for the rest of the game gave the impression that Western was going to take the first game of the day’s doubleheader.
In the top of the seventh, Coyotes third baseman Lauren Wobken hit a high fly ball to left field for what seemed to be an easy first out. Leatherneck left fielder Ashley Minyard shielded her eyes from the sun and lost track of the ball that would eventually miss her glove and hit her in the face. Wobken would reach second, and Minyard would not see the field for the rest of the weekend.
Wobken would eventually score to tie the game and send game one into extras. The pitcher’s duel was imminent until the top of the 12th when Jamie Holscher, one of the best power and overall hitters in The Summit League, drilled a two-run blast off of Ira to break the tie and eventually earn the win for the Coyotes. After the 12th full inning, the Coyotes topped the Leathernecks 4-3 in game one.
Game two was again a pitcher’s duel, but this time was between Coyotes pitcher Dustie Durham and Leathernecks sophomore Abby Carlin. Each team was able to find the scoreboard in the third inning to tie the game at one apiece.
South Dakota would break the tie in the fifth off of a Holscher double, but Carlin would tie the game up once again with a single in the sixth. Western tried to walk it off in the seventh but came up short leading to extra innings once again.
This didn’t last long when in the top of the eighth, Fowler earned her fourth hit and second RBI of the day to break the tie once again. Western couldn’t recover in the bottom of the inning and South Dakota made the doubleheader sweep complete with a 3-2 win.
Game two’s loss marked the ninth time out of Western’s 14 losses that Western had lost while within two runs of their opponents.
After a long Saturday and a rain delay Sunday morning, the two teams took the field once more Saturday afternoon to play game three. The Leatherneck bats were hot in game three, when a leadoff triple by center fielder Jasmine Lara and two hits immediately after that had Western take a 2-1 lead.
The Purple and Gold would hold onto that lead the rest of the game, preventing the South Dakota sweep with a 6-3 win.
Golitko had nothing but positive things to say about how her team recovered from Saturday’s marathon to win Sunday.
“I think they were ready to play. They didn’t want to wait around for this team to potentially hit the way they hit. They were confident when they came out and they were very loose today too. When our team is loose and relaxed good things happen.”
Western takes a 7-14 record to Iowa City this Wednesday to face Big Ten Conference foe the Iowa Hawkeyes. The Hawkeyes are 15-11 this season without having played at home yet this season. The Hawkeyes finished up against conference rival Purdue Boilermakers this past weekend in a two game to one losing effort.
Western upset Iowa last season, beating the Hawkeyes 2-1 in last year’s single game series.
First pitch from Iowa City is scheduled for Wednesday at 7 p.m.