By Allen Gemaelich, Special to the Pueblo Chieftain
GRAND JUNCTION - When Colorado State University-Pueblo's
softball team saw it had No. 1 seed Mesa State in the losers'
bracket game of the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference tournament,
the ThunderWolves didn't panic.
They salivated and advanced to live another day. CSU-Pueblo (21-17-1) bounced back from a 5-2 loss to Nebraska-Kearney in the first round of the RMAC tournament on Friday at Columbine Park to defeat RMAC regular-season champion Mesa State 6-2 in an elimination game at Bergman Field.
The ThunderWolves get a rematch with Kearney at 9:30 a.m. today at Bergman Field. The loser is eliminated and the winner plays Regis for a chance to play for the RMAC tournament title and a NCAA South Central Regional berth.
"Mesa is a team we match up well with," CSU-Pueblo coach Shane Showalter said. "Our hitters are good against their pitchers. I told the team we have an opportunity to send the host team home and they responded to it."
Breanna Hedstrom led the way.
The senior pitcher threw a complete game five-hitter against the NCAA Division II home run leaders after giving up one earned run on seven hits against Kearney.
"I was skeptical," she said. "I pitched all four games against Mesa (during the season). They know what I throw, but I was able to hit my spots. "That was the best I've thrown all year. I'm feeling good. I worked a lot outside."
Hedstrom fell behind 2-0, giving up a solo home run to Shelby Meilinger in the first inning and a solo shot to Alissa Zoelle in the second.
"The two home runs were mistake pitches," Showalter said. "Her reaction is what made the difference. She came to us as a first baseman and now is one of the top two or three pitchers in the conference. She's why we're here now.
"I tell the team 90 percent of life is how you react to it. We took some lumps and kept going at ‘em."
Hedstrom's teammates came to her aid in the bottom of the second inning even though Jeanna Barnes was robbed off a home run by Meilinger to lead off the inning.
Bonita Nuanez drew a walk after falling behind two strikes in the count. Brittny Barnes was hit by a pitch then Kari Romero reached on an error to load the bases for Katie Johnson.
The sophomore from Bonney Lake, Wash., delivered a two-run single to tie the game. Two batters later, Shana Martin hit a two-run single, then Stephanie Back put down a squeeze bunt to score Janine Tyler for a 5-2 lead.
Tyler, who was 3-for-4, hit a solo home run in the fourth. From there, Hedstrom limited the Mavericks to six base runners and even got some help from the defense when Martin relayed a throw from Jeanna Barnes to Jennifer Papik for the third out at home plate in the fifth.
"I don't want (softball) to be over," Hedstrom said. "I'll do everything I can to get the job done. I won't give up and lay down."
Hedstrom was pitching a shutout against Nebraska-Kearney in the first game and leading 1-0 when the Lopers broke loose for four runs in the fourth.
Kearney's first batter reached on an error by Tyler then advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt. One out later, Danya Cole singled home a run then Melissa Hinkley hit a three-run home run.
"The next inning we mounted a comeback, but made a base running mistake that took us out of the inning," Showalter said. CSU-Pueblo scored a run in the sixth when Tyler scored on an error to trail 4-2, but Kearney got the run back in the bottom of the sixth with a home run.
"We gained some confidence at Western (New Mexico)," Showalter said. "We had them beat a couple times. We have confidence at the plate."