At this time last year, the Hastings College softball team had an 11-9 record heading into conference play and was in dire need of confidence.
Fast-forward to Wednesday: Entering their conference opener against Midland, the senior-laden Broncos boasted a 22-6 record, a .351 team batting average and were fresh off a 7-1 stretch in the Tuscon Invitational.
Despite the Broncos’ early season turnaround, Midland (14-15) stole the opening game of a double-header 13-9 in eight innings at the Smith Softball Complex and then beat the Broncos again 6-3 in the nightcap.
“I’m lost for words on how we didn’t perform at the top level tonight,” said Hastings head coach Troy Baker. “Mama said there will be days like today and I guess today was our day.”
The Warriors used a five-run fifth and eighth inning to weather a Hastings comeback and avenge a 16-7 loss to Hastings on March 21 at the tournament in Tuscon.
With the aid of a stiff wind blowing out, both teams combined for five home runs. Cara Williams, Corrin Ziepke and Heather Sabata went deep for the Broncos, while Midland’s Bailey Hartman added two of her own.
Senior Taylor Erlenbusch, who entered today with 2.36 ERA and 10-3 record pitched a strong first two innings, amassing three strikeouts and allowing just one hit. Williams opened the home half of the first inning with a single and later scored, but Hastings left three runners on base in the inning.
With two outs in the bottom of the second, Williams belted an opposite field home run that put the Broncos up 2-0.
The Warriors struck back in the third inning, with three hits and three runs, one of which was Hartman’s first home run of the game. Hastings was held scoreless in the third and fourth innings, before Midland blew the game open with a five-run inning.
“I thought they swung the bats well,” Baker said. “Midland came in here to take it to us and they did. They swung the bats nice and free, made lots of contact and got clutch hits when they had to.”
The Warriors rattled off five straight hits en route to five runs and an 8-3 lead.
But the Broncos struck back, tallying a big, four-run inning of their own. Ziepke, who went 3 for 5 on the day, rocked a home run over the leftfield wall to spark the Broncos. Hastings was down just two heading into the sixth.
Midland was blanked during the sixth and seventh innings, before Hastings rallied with a two-run seventh inning to force extra innings. Senior Kate Baehnk drew a walk to start the inning, before Sabata drilled a home run over the centerfield fence to tie the game.
It was the Midland bats that were again the difference in extra innings, as the Warriors rattled off five hits, five runs and Hartman’s second home run of the game to go up 13-8 and all but finish off the Broncos.
Morgan Fisher drove home a run to chip into Midland’s lead in the eighth, but Midland’s Mikayla Kuhl struck out the following two batters to end the game.
Ziepke led the way for the Broncos, going 3-for-4 with two RBIs , while Sabata added two RBIs of her own.
In game two, the bats cooled off for both teams.
But, like in game one, Midland got hits in clutch moments to drop Hastings 6-3.
A home run in the seventh inning from Kortney Wallick and a strong outing from Skylar Peterson led the way for the Warriors.
Midland struck first with a quick run in the top of the first inning off Baehnk.
Meanwhile, the Broncos struggled to get key hits or score enough runs to keep up with the Warriors.
“We had people on, but we could never get that clutch hit,” Baker said. “They weren’t fooling us by any means and we weren’t striking out a lot.”
Entering the game, Baehnk had a team-best 1.68 ERA and an 8-3 record in 13 games.
After allowing that initial run, Baehnk settled down, allowing just two more runs in the next four innings.
Both teams nabbed a run in the third, but it was the Broncos that broke through in the bottom of the fourth.
Williams doubled to bring home Anna Gerhard, before Chloe Boeka singled home Williams to push the Broncos lead to one.
The Warriors struck twice in the fifth and sixth innings to take a 4-3 lead into the top of the seventh.
Midland capped the night’s success when Wallick belted a Baehnk pitch well over the left field wall to put the Warriors up 6-3.
The Broncos failed to score in the home half of the seventh inning and fell to 0-2 to start GPAC play.
Hastings will have to respond in a hurry, with an important double-header looming on Saturday against No. 15 Morningside, which is currently the conference leader.
Baker will lean on his veterans in hopes of turning around their early conference woes in time for Saturday.
“We need to refocus, because we have so many veterans and so many playes who have played 100 games on this field and for Hastings College,” he said. “That’s what we need to do, throw this away and hopefully come back against Morningside and play well.”