After enjoying a five game winning streak, the MSU Denver softball team has lost four in a row just prior to the conference tournament.
Head coach Annie Van Wetzinga’s Roadrunners hadn’t had trouble within the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference until they traveled to Golden to take on Colorado School of Mines April 22-23. Before the four game series with the Orediggers, MSU Denver had a comfortable two game lead over Mines for second place in the conference. After the four straight losses, the Orediggers took control of second place in the conference.
While Mines is peaking at the right time, the opposite can be said of the Runners. MSU Denver had not lost four straight games all season until their recent stretch. They had a conference record of 26-6 up until April 22, and left Golden with a record of 26-10, the same as the Orediggers, who own the tiebreaker.
The good news for the team is that they are not in danger of missing the RMAC Softball tournament. They have a four-and-a-half game lead over fourth place Chadron State Eagles with only two games remaining, making it mathematically impossible for them to drop to fourth place in the conference ahead of the tournament.
The Runners do have a chance to regain their second place position in the conference. Their two remaining games are against Adams State, a team that as of right now wouldn’t be one of the top eight teams in the conference and would therefore not qualify for the RMAC tournament. If the Runners can grab two wins April 29-30 on the road in Alamosa, they’ll put a lot of pressure on the Orediggers.
The Orediggers finish up their regular season slate with four games against Colorado Christian University April 29-30. If they win three games out of the four, they’ll secure their position in second place in the conference, leaving the Runners in third place at best.
Regardless of what position they finish the regular season in, the Runners have been one of the best teams in the conference all season and will be a favorite to win the tournament.
Senior Hayley Fields has been positively dominant on the mound this year. She has a record of 12-3 in 18 appearances and leads the Runners with 12 complete games. Fields is sporting a 2.73 ERA, which is good enough for second best on the team.
Freshman pitcher Darby McGhee has shown in her first season that she can take up the mantle for Fields when she departs the team. McGhee has only started four games this season for the Runners, but she’s appeared in 16. She leads the team in two of the most important categories to pitchers: strikeouts and ERA. She had 48 strikeouts on the season to go with her 1.90 ERA and 6-1 record. She’s the only Runner who comes close to averaging a strikeout per inning, as she’s pitched 55 innings to record her 48 strikeouts.
Last and certainly not least we have Cassidy Smith. While Smith’s numbers don’t quite compare to those of her peers, she’s had a great season in her own right. She has an 8-6 record in 14 starts, and she’s recorded 14 strikeouts this season. She’s accumulated a 2.83 ERA and has pitched six complete games on the season.
Now let’s talk lumber. Junior Annika Anderson has had a season for the ages. She’s started all 51 games for the Runners thus far this season, she leads the team in RBIs and in batting average. Her 46 RBIs so far this year are a result of her consistent hitting. She’s batting at a .429 average, more than 90 percentage points better than the second best hitter on the team. She’s scored a team-high 46 runs this season and has smacked eight home runs to go along with them.
Right behind Anderson in batting average is junior catcher Sarena Espinoza. She’s currently batting .336 and is third on the team in home runs with four. She’s started in all but one game this season and has 78 total bases to show for it. She also draws more walks than any other Runner with 19 on the season.
Junior Carissa Terry has been the home run master this year for the Runners. She’s smacked 11 long balls on the season and is batting .312 to go along with the homers. She’s got 37 RBIs this season and has started every single game at first base.
If the season ended today, the Runners would take on CCU in the first round, a team that MSU Denver went 3-1 against during the regular season. Like the 2016 RMAC softball tournament, Colorado Mesa will host this season due to the fact that they will have finished the regular season with the best record in the conference.