MINNEAPOLIS -- For the North Dakota State University softball team, the last one was one of the roughest ones.
Drake pitcher Nicole Newman struck out 13 of the 16 Bison she faced on Saturday evening, May 18, as NDSU’s season came to a cold, quiet end via a 8-0 five-inning loss in their second NCAA regional game.
The Bison, who were blanked by host Minnesota 3-0 on Friday when Gophers star pitcher Amber Fiser struck out 12, mustered just one hit versus Newman, who was the top pitcher in the Missouri Valley Conference this season. They end the season with a 42-16 mark. Bison coach Darren Mueller said the 25 strikeouts in two games were easy to explain.
“They’re two of the best pitchers in the country is probably part of the reason. Man, they’re good,” he said. “Fiser and Newman are just really good, and even though we talked about it, as a hitter it’s still hard to take the fact that you’re going to strike out. Your confidence goes a little bit. Hats off to both of them. If they’re not playing us they’re a lot of fun to watch.”
Freshman starting pitcher Paige Vargas went four innings for NDSU, allowing seven runs and eight hits. Cara O’Byrne went to the pitcher’s circle in the fifth for the Bison, allowing a two-out run-scoring single which ended the game.
Newman opened the game by striking out eight of the first nine Bison she faced. By contrast, Vargas found trouble right away in the bottom of the first. She hit the leadoff Bulldog, then surrendered a pair of singles and a walk and Drake led 2-0 before the first inning ended.
Vargas got two quick outs in the second, then ran into more trouble, allowing a single and another hit batter. When Bulldogs second baseman Kennedy Frank poked a triple to the wall in left-center, both runners scored for a 4-0 Drake lead.
Drake added two more in the third when the Bulldogs’ number nine hitter hit a two-out single that scored runners from second and third.
The Bison finally spoiled Newman’s bid for her sixth perfect game of the season when Katie Shoultz led off the fourth with a single to left. Shoultz stole second but was stranded there when Newman struck out two more. After Vargas retired the first two Bulldogs she faced in the fourth, Taryn Pena hit a towering homer to left for a 7-0 Drake lead. With her college career over, Shoultz fought back tears while complimenting Newman.
“She’s an amazing pitcher and we knew she was going to be good. My approach at bat was to keep my hands above the ball and just touch it,” Shoultz said. “I knew I was going to get a rise ball sometime.”
Vargas finishes the season with a 17-5 record. While she struggled on Saturday, Mueller said he hopes getting Vargas an NCAA tournament start will pay dividends down the line.
“We wanted to get the experience for her, and I know she’s not happy with how she pitched,” Mueller said. “She threw a little bit better last night than she did today, but just to get that experience as a freshman and build off it and know this is what it’s going to take to get to the next level, I think she needed to see that and go through it.”
Newman, a junior from Madison, Wis., improved to 29-7.