Several factors contributed to the Minot State University softball team's 4-1 finish at the season-opening Desert Stinger Tournament in Las Vegas.
There was the hot bat of Jen Dixon, sound defense and a pitching staff that allowed a tournament-low nine runs.
There was also the focus that comes with having something to play for.
Minot State shortstop Ali Cygan moves to field a ball hit in the hole against Simon Fraser University on Saturday during a tournament in Las Vegas. Photo courtesy of Deanna Mitchell/MSU sports
Last season, postseason play was out of the equation as MSU competed as a provisional NCAA Division II member. This year, the Beavers begin competition in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference and are full members of Division II.
"Last year we were playing for nothing, but now we're all serious and trying to get to the postseason," MSU coach Bill Triplett said. "Everything counts now. I think we've got a good group of upperclassmen, some seniors and juniors and I think they're really looking forward to doing something."
MSU senior Mandy Greenberg was named the NSIC pitcher of the week after recording two wins, allowing no runs and 10 hits while striking out 17 batters in 10 innings.
Dixon keyed the Beavers at the plate, racking up nine hits, including two home runs.
It was the play of some of the Beavers' less-experienced players, however, that pleased Triplett.
Despite starting a completely different infield than last season, MSU didn't commit an error in its season opener and played solid defense throughout the tournament. South Dakota State transfer Ali Cygan played shortstop and batted above .300 for the weekend.
"Everybody just stepped up," Triplett said. "It was kind of a team effort."
Triplett said the Beavers are taking this week off before beginning practice Monday in preparation for a four-game invitational in St. Cloud, Minn., beginning March 2.
Baseball team starting season
The end of series for the Minot State University baseball team last season often meant the end of serviceable pitching arms.
That shallow pitching depth usually resulted in high-scoring totals for opponents and less competitive games than when one of the Beavers' top hurlers was on the mound.
This season, however, MSU coach Brock Weppler said the number of capable pitchers should be less of a problem.
"We've added several arms and we've got around 16, 17 pitchers right now," Weppler said. "A lot of them are younger so they're works in progress but overall we are kind of night and day from where we were last year."
The Beavers open their season with a doubleheader tonight against Minnesota Duluth at the Metrodome in Minneapolis. On Friday, they'll play two games against Wayne State College (Neb.).
"Early in the season, pitching is ahead of hitting, so I think all four games are going to be close," Weppler said. "It'll be a matter of getting guys on base and having quality at-bats to get them over and get them in. That's what we're expecting at this point in the season, is just having guys get quality at-bats."
Weppler said senior righthander Cole Stober will start the season as the Beavers' ace, with junior-college transfer Matt Davis, a 6-foot-2 lefty, expected to slide right into the No. 2 spot. Stober finished last season 4-5 with a 4.38 ERA.
"He'll be a big part of our rotation," Weppler said of Davis. "You've gotta consider Stober our ace right now because he was the last few years, but you have to put Matt right there behind him at number two. He'll give us a good lefty - last year we didn't have any lefties - that we can throw out there."
Weppler said he expects lefthander Austin Berntson, a 2012 Minot High graduate, to contribute immediately in the bullpen.
Seniors Jordan Gilmour, Mike Turcotte and Mitch Olson will anchor the top and middle of the Beavers' batting order. Olson, a third baseman, led MSU last season in batting average (.364), doubles (16), home runs (3) and RBIs (41).
Beavers seeking redemption
The celebration that followed the completion of the MSU women's basketball team's first road sweep of the season was well-deserved, but short-lived.
The Beavers (11-11 overall, 7-11 NSIC) won a pair of close games at Sioux Falls (S.D.) and Southwest Minnesota State last weekend, and quickly turned their attention to atoning for a rough road trip earlier this season.
MSU hosts Bemidji State on Friday and Minnesota, Crookston on Saturday, both opponents that easily handled the Beavers on their home courts in December.
The Crookston game was particularly ugly, as the Beavers turned the ball over 26 times, got outrebounded by 11 and received a combined nine field-goal attempts from leading scorers Carly Boag and Sacarra Molina. The result: a 66-46 loss and a season-low five points for Boag.
"I think our kids are really excited to be able to try to redeem themselves," MSU coach Sheila Green Gerding said. "We really can't even explain the Crookston game the first time around. Gotta give them credit, they were good - but we were really as bad as we have been all year."
If recent results are any indication, the Beavers are playing at a higher level than in December - but Green Gerding said she's yet to see her team play to its potential for 40 minutes.
Bemidji (9-13, 5-13) and Crookston (7-15, 4-14) are the only teams below the Beavers in the NSIC North Division standings and both enter the weekend on losing streaks.
But with redemption on the line during MSU's last home games of the season, the Beavers are unlikely to come out flat.
"I think our kids will be excited to play against these teams with parents' weekend and senior night coming up in our final homestand," Green Gerding said. "But it won't be easy. Those teams are playing pretty good basketball right now, too."