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Blue Hawks softball on roll with pitching, defense

Dickinson State wouldn't mind blowing out a team every now and then.But the Blue Hawks haven't been afforded that luxury much this season, especially in the North Star Athletic Association Tournament. In six games in the conference tournament, wi...

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Dickinson State junior Brianna Grayson, left, prepares to record an out at first base following a throw from McKennzie Bassett, right, during the Blue Hawks’ game against Valley City State April 9 at the North Softball Complex. (Press Photo by Colton Pool)

Dickinson State wouldn’t mind blowing out a team every now and then.
But the Blue Hawks haven’t been afforded that luxury much this season, especially in the North Star Athletic Association Tournament. In six games in the conference tournament, with a 5-1 mark, DSU outscored its opponents 15-8 and only won one game by more than two runs.
“We knew we could win, but we didn’t know how we were going to win,” DSU head coach Kristen Fleury said. “We ran with our pitching and our defense rather than an offensive threat, but it was a well-fought battle. Anybody could’ve won it out of the North Star.”
The Blue Hawks hope to turn their scoring woes around for the NAIA national tournament opening round beginning at 4 p.m. Monday against Oregon Tech at Simpson University in Redding, Calif.
“We struggled with our hitting,” NSAA player of the year Alex Vargas said. “We’re just going to have to find a way to get out of that. We’ve been anxious and not swinging at the right pitches. We just need to relax and take our time.”
In DSU’s first three games of the tournament, NSAA pitcher of the year Alex Watson allowed one run and tallied 25 strikeouts in two shutouts. After striking out eight and shutting out the Vikings in the first game of the championship series, Watson gave up four earned runs in the Vikings’ 6-3 win to force a Game 3 - which Watson didn’t start.
When Watson came back in with the championship on the line in that game, all she could try to do was slow down the pace of the game and bring back momentum.
She won that game and was named NSAA pitcher of the year soon after.
“You could tell her confidence was really high, and that just brought confidence to the team as well,” NSAA first-team infielder McKenzie Kenobbie said. “Her energy level was up the whole time, and she just led the team this weekend.”

Fleury said VCSU got to Watson after playing against her six times this season, but she held her composure for the third game.
“She’s a fighter and a grinder,” Fleury said. “More than anybody, I think she wanted it. I think that’s the most important thing. When she was out there, she wasn’t going to let it get out of her hands.”
Being in her first season as the lead pitcher, Watson admitted there were some butterflies - nerves, excitement and adrenaline with a dash of anxiety - going into it, but she felt ready to take on the role.
“I was super pumped and ready to get out there,” Watson said. “Our last conference day, I was waking every hour, like, ‘Is it time yet? Is it time to go?’ because I was super excited to play.”
But now the Blue Hawks need more offense to back that pitching up.
Kenobbie admitted that the way DSU has been winning hasn’t been ideal - insurance runs would be nice - but a couple runs could be the difference with DSU’s defense playing as well as it has.
“I think our defense was a huge part,” she said. “Obviously, our hitting wasn’t that huge. As a team, we came together with our defense, and our pitching was really on point.”
Just like the conference tournament, Fleury said the national tournament will be like a brand new season - except DSU hasn’t played these teams this time around. All the Blue Hawks have to go off of are stats and film.
But that could also be an advantage for Watson and a team that’s won low-scoring games all year.
“We’ve won every type of way you could possibly think of,” Fleury said. “I think that’s important. We know how to win one-run ballgames, multiple-run ballgames, we know how to come back and how to hold leads. The kids are excited, and however you can win, that’s a good win. You never want to apologize for wins.”
Oregon Tech, which DSU lost to in the NAIA World Series last year to the tune of 7-5, probably didn’t expect to be in the national tournament with an at-large bid, Fleury said.
That means DSU’s opponent could be more than ready to seize the moment with a second life.
Monday won’t provide a walk in the park by any means.
“They know what it’s like to win here, and they know what it’s like to lose,” Fleury said. “I think they have the confidence that they can show to the younger kids. We just have to go out and have some fun.”

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