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DSU looks to extend 11-game win streak hosting Aii tournament

Press Photo by Royal McGregor Photo top, Dickinson State senior Taysia Kaufman, right, is greeted by her teammates after hitting a leadoff home run against Jamestown College on April 6.1 / 3
Press Photo by Royal McGregor Dickinson State sophomore Janel LaRont rips a hit against Jamestown on April 72 / 3
Press Photo by Royal McGregor Dickinson State sophomore Regan Lawrence throws a pitch against Jamestown on April 7.3 / 3

As of late, the Dickinson State softball team has been tattooing the ball, whether it's home or away, freshman or senior, from the leadoff hitter to the No. 9 spot.

The Blue Hawks aren't just hitting the home run ball, but doubles and triples.

DSU and its hot bats host the NAIA Association of Independent Institutions national qualifying tournament beginning at 10 a.m. Friday at Gress Softball Complex.

"I'm excited and the kids are excited," DSU head coach Kristen Fleury said. "The last time we had it was the regional in 2007 when I was senior myself playing in it. It's a fun time. It's a good atmosphere. We're excited to play in front of our home crowd."

The Blue Hawks (22-13) have the No. 1 seed and will play the winner of Valley City State and Dakota State at 3 p.m. Friday.

As DSU has an opening-game bye, the team has faced Valley City State (8-24) five times this season and won all five meetings by an average of 7.6 runs. On the contrary, the Blue Hawks haven't faced Dakota State (16-16) this season. The winner of the 6-team tournament punches its ticket to the NAIA national championship in Columbus Ga. The other three teams are University of Great Falls (Mont.), Jamestown College and Mayville State.

"We're not just excited," DSU sophomore Janel LaRont said. "We're pumped. We all want to win."

DSU has 29 home runs on the season with 54 doubles, 16 triples and a team batting average of .373.

"We have a lot of confidence right now, especially at the plate," LaRont said.

LaRont leads the team with a .446 batting average with seven home runs, nine doubles, five triples and 39 RBIs. The sophomore from San Jose, Calif., also has a pitching record of 5-1 with a 3.05 earned-run average.

Taysia Kaufman, a senior from Huntington Beach, Calif., is the Blue Hawks' leadoff hitter and also their No. 1 starter in the pitching circle. She has a 7-4 record in 11 starts and a 2.75 ERA. At the plate, Kaufman has a .414 average with six doubles, three triples, two home runs and 20 RBIs.

DSU has four freshmen who see an immense amount of playing time -- Alex Vargas, Rebecca Lopez, Justeena Gutierrez and Monique Yslas.

"The young kids just have confidence behind themselves now," Fleury said. "They know what they can do. They are playing well and they know they belong here. They know they can compete. It's almost exciting to know how young we are. It's scary to think, that besides a couple kids, we are bringing everybody back."

Yet, none are slouches at the plate or on the field.

Vargas, who sits in the middle of the batting order, has amassed a .403 average with team highs in doubles (12), home runs (8) and RBIs (53). Lopez is batting .392, nine doubles, two home runs and one triple with 24.

Yslas is batting .379, but the biggest surprise might be from Gutierrez, the No. 9 batter, who is hitting .377 with four doubles, three home runs, one triple and 21 RBIs.

"We've been hitting a lot and we've been practicing that every day," Lopez said. "We're progressed a lot. I'm excited to keep playing."

Where the Blue Hawks are at now from where they were in the middle of the season is night and day.

When DSU returned from the Morningside Tournament in late March, the team had an 11-12 record.

Since then, the Blue Hawks have lost only once, a 13-6 defeat to Jamestown College in their home opener. DSU responded with an 11-game win streak.

"We've really just settled into our roles," Fleury said. "We're doing the little things right and we're making the big plays. At the plate, we're just swinging the bats well. We're not missing and putting the runs on the board. You really can't ask them to do much more."

Not only have the bats been powerful, but the team's pitching is settling into a groove. During their 11-game win streak, DSU pitchers are allowing 3.1 runs per game. LaRont said what puts pitchers most at ease is the quality of at bats the team is having.

"I don't go out on the field with any worries," LaRont said. "It's really relaxing (as a pitcher). We work really hard on pitching every day. The hard work is definitely paying off."

The batters are supplying an average of 12.3 runs per game, making their pitchers' lives that much easier.

"Pitchers have confidence when you know your team is going to score runs," Fleury said. "I believe if you give up a hit or home run, your team has your back at the plate and are going to get those runs back. That's what our lineup has been doing the second half of the year for our pitchers."