Warrior Softball Survives NSIC Tourney Opener

From: WSU Sports Information   Photo:  Chops Hancock

ROCHESTER, Minn. – March Madness is in the rearview mirror, and ever since then, Winona State University has not tasted defeat. The Warriors, who have developed a flair for the dramatic of late, incited some madness of their own on the second day of May in the opening round of the NSIC Tournament.

The top-seeded Warriors avoided a first round upset to the 10th-seeded Sioux Falls Cougars on Thursday afternoon at RYFSA Complex thanks to a walk-off double by junior Katie Kolb in a 3-2 triumph.

Ranked No. 6 in the country and No. 2 in the NCAA DII Central Region, Kolb successfully extended Winona State’s (46-5) winning streak to an ever-growing 31 consecutive games.

Over the course of the unprecedented winning streak, the Warriors have played in eight one-run games and have emerged victorious in walk-off fashion four times over the last 13 ballgames. WSU also reveled in a pair of walk-off wins in last year’s NSIC Tournament en route to the championship.

During Winona State’s 31-game winning streak, the Warriors have outscored their opponents, 213-47. However, in two regular season meetings with Sioux Falls, the run differential stood at just three runs. The Cougars advanced to play the Warriors after upsetting lowered-seeded Minot State to begin the day, and proceeded to take Winona State to the brink.

WSU was in comeback mode from the opening frame after the Cougars carried their morning momentum into the matchup and took a 1-0 lead in the top of the first. Sioux Falls also erased a 2-1 Winona State lead with the game-tying run in the top of the sixth inning.

The Warriors threatened in the bottom of the sixth, but left the go-ahead run stranded at third base which set up Kolb’s heroics in the seventh inning.

After Jen Giesey nearly walked off the Cougars with a deep fly ball to the warning track in left field, Carly Kordich reach on an infield single. Kolb wasted little time starting the celebration, jumping on the first pitch she saw, driving it to the right-center field gap as Kordich scampered home. By the time Kolb reached second base, her teammates victoriously mobbed her on the diamond.

It was a breakout game of sorts for Kolb as the leadoff hitter went 2-for-4 after hitting into some tough luck as of late. Despite the recent trend, the left-handed hitter continues to find ways on base and across the plate, ranking second on the team in runs (43), and it was just a matter of time before the veteran hitter got her groove back.

The Warriors made solid contact offensively the first time through the order but had nothing to show for it while the upset-minded Cougars led 1-0. In the bottom of the third, a controversial call went to Sioux Falls and could have stood as a rally-killer for WSU before the two-time reigning NSIC Player of the Year stepped to the plate.

Lani Van Zyl silenced the muttering in the stands, and the Cougars, by belting the first pitch she saw deep and gone to left field for a go-ahead two-run homer. The senior has been unconscious at the plate over the last 12 games, batting .600 (21-for-35) with seven home runs and 18 RBI.

In the circle, it was the two-time reigning NSIC Pitcher of the Year, Jordyn Kleman, showing her resolve with a complete game nine-strikeout effort. Kleman (25-1) scattered seven hits and stranded seven Cougars runners in one of her grittiest performances to date.

In typical tournament fashion, the Warriors are right back to work May 3 against long-standing rival Minnesota State Mankato in a winner’s bracket game set for 12 p.m. in Rochester. The winner will advance to the 4 p.m. game with the loser facing elimination at 2 p.m.

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