ThunderWolves two runs away from RMAC Championship

By Allen Gemaelich, Grand Junction Daily Sentinel 

GRAND JUNCTION - No one saw this coming.

Colorado State University-Pueblo, which lost six of its last eight games heading into the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference softball tournament, won three consecutive games Saturday to reach the RMAC tournament championship game.

But the storybook ending came to a premature ending when the Pack lost 5-3 to Western New Mexico in the championship game Saturday afternoon at Bergman Field.

"Proud is an understatement," CSU-Pueblo coach Shane Showalter said. "We did something you don't see. We were the last seed, lost the first game and battled all the way back. We scared some people. We have nothing to hang our heads about."

The ThunderWolves (23-19-1) knocked off Nebraska-Kearney 1-0 in their first game Saturday, then eliminated Regis 6-2 and were leading Western New Mexico 3-2 through five innings.

That's when the Mustangs (35-16-1) hit back-to-back-to-back home runs in the sixth for the victory.

Western New Mexico's Antoinette Estrella hit the first one with one out and none on to tie the game 3-3. Debbie Yescas followed with a solo shot to left center for a 4-3 lead then Rebecca Reynolds hit her second of the day for insurance.

"We rode our pitcher as long as we could," Showalter said. "Bre (Hedstrom) ran out of steam. We made a pitching change a batter or two late. Bre did a great job.

"She threw 17 innings at (Western New Mexico). They had a good idea what she throws. The second home run of the back-to-back-to-back was a good pitch. The hitter went and got it. Bre was running on fumes."

Hedstrom (13-9) allowed four runs on six hits, one walk and struck out four in 5 innings. Kelsey Swanberg got the final two outs in the sixth.

It was a home run that gave the ThunderWolves a 2-0 lead in the second inning, but it came off an unexpecting bat - Katie Johnson.

The sophomore hit her second home run of the season with one runner on.

Two innings later, Johnson singled and scored on Shana Martin's single, but that was all the ThunderWolves offense had left.

CSU-Pueblo's offense produced six runs on eight hits, including three extra-base hits in the victory over Regis, but it was Swanberg's effort on the mound that was impressive.

The sophomore (10-9) allowed two runs on four hits, one walk and struck out five in a complete game effort.

"I've been struggling," Swanberg said. "I had to get it done for the team today."

It was her first outing since last weekend at Western New Mexico.

"Kelsey had a breakout day," Showalter said. "We went to her when we had to and she shut down a good-hitting Regis team. She did a great job."

Bonita Nuanez was 1-for-4 with three RBI and Martin was 1-for-1 with two RBI.

Martin led the Pack in their 1-0 victory over Nebraska-Kearney when she broke up an Amanda Bell no-hitter with a solo home run on one pitch in the fourth inning.

"I've seen that pitcher a lot," said Martin, who was 1-for-2 against Bell. "She shuts me down, but I expected her to pitch me inside. I made an adjustment and hit it."

That was all Hedstrom needed.

The CSU-Pueblo senior pitcher set down 12 of the last 13 batters she faced, giving up a walk with two outs in the sixth.

Hedstrom allowed four hits in the first three innings, one walk and struck out four.

Martin, Nuanez and Kari Romero were selected to the RMAC All-Tournament team.