FARGO - North Dakota State was in the back of a long line when the Summit League softball title day began on Saturday. One by one, Bison freshman pitcher Paige Vargas got the Bison closer to the front and on her 213th pitch over two games, NDSU punched its ticket to the NCAA tournament.
It’s the 10th time in the last 11 years the Bison will hear their name on selection Sunday. This time, NDSU had to go through the losers bracket on Friday and then beat the University of South Dakota 6-0 and 3-1 on Saturday at Tharaldson Park.
NDSU wins Summit title with 3-1 win over USD. Tenth NCAA trip in 11 years. pic.twitter.com/c7PpN4CVai— Jeff Kolpack (@FGOSPORTSWRITER) May 11, 2019
Vargas had a hand in all three wins giving up just one run in 21 innings. She came into the tournament as the team’s second pitcher, but assumed control after starter KK Leddy ran out of gas on Friday.
When she got a ground out to end the game, it was essentially the first time she’s celebrated some sort of advancing tournament title of any kind.
“It’s so bizarre to think I’m part of a team that won a conference tournament and carrying on that legacy of Bison softball,” Vargas said. “Just knowing all the hard work, training and traveling we’ve done. There’s nothing more you can ask for than have the trust of your coaches and teammates.”
Head coach Darren Mueller put the trust in Vargas after she shut out South Dakota State on Friday. Mueller also had a decision to make after Vargas blanked the Coyotes in the first game on Saturday.
Ironically, Leddy came in when she was a freshman and pitched the Bison to a regional. Mueller said the fact Leddy has been hurt this year played into it. Moreover, Vargas was unbeaten against mid-major competition.
“Kind of going back and forth,” he said. “It’s tough to get warmed up in cold weather so let’s go with Paige. She had the hot hand.”
Vargas lost some velocity, Mueller said, but her ball was still moving.
Afterward, Vargas was asked how her arm felt.
“It’s not sore at all, I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she joked. “It’s a little sore. It’s been awhile but I’ve pitched two games in a day before.”
The Bison got a head start in the second game getting a run-scoring single from Maddie Hansen with two out in the bottom of the first inning. They made it 3-0 in the third on RBI singles by Madyson Camacho and Cara Beatty.
Vargas, meanwhile, was in cruise control effectively mixing up her pitches. USD finally broke her scoreless streak of 19 innings getting a run-scoring single from Lauren Eamiguel in the top of the sixth inning.
The Bison rang the alarm bell early in the first game scoring three runs on four hits in the top of the first inning, ignited by Camacho’s run-scoring triple.
One batter later, the frame was further heightened when the umpires overturned an out call on Camacho at home plate, saying USD catcher Jessica Rogers blocked Camacho’s path. The interference call brought Coyotes head coach Robert Wagner out to passionately protest the call.
With a strong wind blowing in, a 3-0 lead looked more impressive then it did the first two days of the tournament when the wind was blowing out.
NDSU got even more impressive after a 46-minute rain delay in the top of the sixth inning. When play resumed, catcher Maddie Hansen drew a walk to load the bases. Cara Beatty’s two-run double to right center made it 5-0.
“We weren’t in survival mode, it was about us having fun,” said Bison senior Katie Shoultz. “Definitely focusing on how we work and not letting things get bigger than what they are.”
Sam Koehn’s solo homer in the top of the seventh kept NDSU’s momentum going.
Vargas struck out just one batter, but did not walk anybody and appeared to have Coyote hitters off balance all game.
That didn’t change much in the nightcap.
“I am immensely proud of Paige,” Shoultz said. “She showed up and she was ready to play. She pitched like she was a senior and she’s seen this stuff before. She’s come such a long way. I can’t begin to tell you how proud I am of her.”
NDSU 300 002 1 -- 6 11 1
USD 000 000 0 -- 0 5 1
Vargas and Hansen. Devers, Lisko (6) and Rogers. W-Vargas (16-4). L-Devers (13-14). HR-NDSU, Koehn (4).
USD 000 001 0 -- 1 6 2
NDSU 102 00x -- 3 8 0
Durham, Devers (3) and Rogers. Vargas and Hansen. W-Vargas (17-4). L-Durham (14-9).