Softball sweeps IPFW at home to reach 20 wins

By ROBERT MYERS Sportswriter

6-game winning streak propels Jacks to highest victory total since 2006

The South Dakota State University Jackrabbit softball team celebrated Senior Day in style, finishing off a weekend sweep of the Fort Wayne Mastodon’s and watching a school record fall.

“It was really good to see the seniors come out and get hits and score runs for us,” Head Coach Krista Wood said. “It’s a big deal for us, Senior Day, and we’re proud of all of them.” 

The red-hot Jackrabbits have now won six straight games, dating back to the second game of Wednesday’s doubleheader at the University of North Dakota. 

SDSU then rolled through Mount Marty on Friday, sending 19 batters to the plate in the first inning of the second game of the doubleheader which SDSU won 18-4.

The offense started more sluggishly on Saturday as the Jackrabbits managed just four hits in the first game, but a four-run third inning proved enough as Ashlyn Bender blanked the Mastodon’s for her ninth win of the season.

Bryana Clark started the second game of the doubleheader and had no need for worry as the SDSU offense lit up Fort Wayne starter Sarah Lazarowich, who gave up seven runs in two-plus innings pitched. 

Lazarowich was unable to record an out in the third inning during which the Jackrabbits sent 11 batters to the plate and posted a seven-spot on the scoreboard. 

“Any time you can get a rally going I think is always contagious,” Wood said. 

Still, all the excitement centered around Clark who gave up a first inning walk, but then began mowing through the Mastodon lineup, inducing mostly weakly hit balls. With two outs in the fourth inning, Alyssa D’Agostino drew cheers from the SDSU bench when she made a leaping grab on a rare line drive that kept the no-hitter intact.  

Clark’s complete mastery could not continue though. Whitney Ennis drove a solid single into the outfield with one out in the fifth inning  to spoil Clark’s bid for SDSU’s first ever no-hitter and force her to settle for the one-hit shutout.

“We were very much aware [of the no-hit bid],” Wood said. “She would have thrown the first no-hitter in school history, so we’re trying to get there.”

On Sunday’s Senior Day finale Clark got the nod again. Unlike Saturday, she found herself in trouble with the bases loaded and only one out in the second, but Clark rose to the occasion with back-to-back strikeouts to end the frame. 

“She’s a freshman so she’s learning,” Wood said. “She needs to be in big situations like this and that was huge for her to come up with those two strikeouts.”

A three-run bottom of the second then put the game out of reach  as SDSU went on to win the game 5-2.

Two of the Jacks’ five runs came courtesy of senior Jessica Markanich who went  2-for-3 on the day with a walk and a stolen base.

“I just had a mindset of getting base hits, getting on, and I had confidence that the team had my back so I just made sure that I got on base and I knew that they would score me,” Markanich said. 

Driving her in was the new the single-season RBI record holder, D’Agostino.

“It felt pretty good. It’s definitely an improvement from last year,” D’Agostino said. “I’m glad I could do it as a sophomore but I wouldn’t be able to do that if my teammates didn’t get on base, so I give them credit too.”

D’Agostino feasted over the weekend, driving in eight runs over the three games to bring her season RBI total to 41, a feat she said caught her by surprise. 

“I had no clue until my coach told me last night,” D’Agostino said. 

Overall the Jackrabbits improved to 20-24, with a 7-8 record in Summit League play. SDSU had not reached the 20-win plateau since 2006 and the seven Summit League wins are the most since they won nine games in 2011.

“It definitely feels good to come out on top with 20  wins – that was our goal to get to 20 wins on the season and we can definitely get more this season,” Markanich said. 

Like Markanich said, there is still work left to do for the Jackrabbits. On Wednesday they host a doubleheader against Dakota State before travelling to the University of South Dakota for a three-game series to wrap up the regular season. A series win could give SDSU their first .500 finish in Summit League play since 2010.

“Wins are contagious, hits are contagious and we’re starting to bring around the atmosphere here,” Wood said. “I think people are starting to buy into what we’re doing.”