Belles clinch spot in MIAA tournament despite losses
Dominic Bush | Tuesday, April 28, 2015
Saint Mary’s clinched a postseason birth despite being swept in the final series of the season by Trine, falling in a Sunday doubleheader 5-2 and 9-0.
The MIAA is comprised of nine schools but only the top four qualify for the conference tournament. Saint Mary’s (22-12, 9-7 MIAA) edged out Adrian for the final spot by one game in the conference standings.
The 22 victories are the most for the Belles in a season since 2012 — their last conference tournament appearance. However, the team will look to improve on their 2012 tournament performance, going 0-2 in double elimination.
Head coach Kelli Zache said the season has been a major success for team and acknowledged the significance of the tournament birth as a potential point of growth for the program.
“It means there’s a lot of promise in the future,” Zache said. “We are overall a very young team with nine freshmen.”
April showers resulted in the cancellation of nonconference series against Aurora and Dominican, and the bad weather also forced Saturday’s finale against regular season champion Trine (33-2, 15-1) to be played Sunday.
By the weekend, the Belles had already clinched the No. 4 seed with Adrian’s loss to Hope on Friday.
With their tournament spot guaranteed, Saint Mary’s traveled to the defending MIAA champs for an afternoon doubleheader.
Trine — who went a perfect 16-0 in conference play last year — fell behind early in game one thanks to some of the Belles biggest bats.
Belles junior catcher Jillian Busfield initiated the scoring with a one-out RBI single in the first. Freshman right fielder and team home-run leader Makenzie Duncan added an RBI of her own via a double to center later in the inning.
Belles freshman pitcher Morgan Raymer did her best to keep the Thunder bats quiet but mistakes in the third and fifth innings resulted in two home runs for the home team. In all, Trine tagged Raymer for five earned runs and nine hits over 5 2/3 innings of work.
The Belles failed to score again after the first frame. The loss dropped Raymer to 5-5 on the season.
“We didn’t get enough people on base when we needed to. You have to score to win ball games,” Zache said.
In game two the Thunder did not wait as long to jump on Saint Mary’s pitching.
The barrage began with an RBI single from the two hitter and left fielder Kaitlin Clark. Belles’ starter freshman Emily Najacht gave up two more runs before being replaced in the first by junior Sarah Burke. Burke surrendered three hits and three earned runs in 2 1/3 innings of relief. Her replacement — freshman Jessica Alberts — finished the game giving up three earned runs on five hits.
Trine starter Bree Fuller held the Belles scoreless to the tune of a five hit, five-inning shutout. The loss marked the first time the Belles were mercy-ruled since March 26, but Zache said she remained optimistic about her team’s rematch with Trine in the first round of the MIAA championship.
“We were right in the first game,” Zache said. “If we play solid like that we have a fair shot at beating Trine.”
Zache said the tournament strategy for her team is simple:
“In order to make it out of tournament play, we have to win every inning, every game.”
Tournament play begins Thursday as the Belles travel back to Angola, Indiana, for the rematch with the Thunder — first pitch is scheduled for 1 p.m.