By Jeremy Hoeck
VERMILLION — Forty-four runs in nearly five and a half hours.
To say it was a marathon day for the University of South Dakota and South Dakota State softball teams would be putting it lightly.
The one, rather big, solace for the Coyotes was that they picked up a pair of one-run Summit League wins, 7-6 and 16-15 over their rivals in Friday’s doubleheader in Vermillion.
“It wasn’t necessarily our best defensive or pitching games, but we figured out a way to come out on top,” said USD head coach Amy Klyse, whose team improves to 24-12 and 7-1 in league play.
“And that’s all that matters in the end, that you get two ‘W’s.”
It was far from easy and far from pretty, though.
On a blustery day in the South Dakota Showdown Series, the teams combined for eight errors, 15 walks and 33 runners left on base.
The story, rather than a Coyote sweep, was nearly an epic USD collapse. Once up 13-2 in the second game, the hosts gave up 10 unanswered runs.
“Mentally we cant let that get to us,” said sophomore catcher Allie Daly, who had two home runs and eight RBI on the day. “After we make the error, we have to make sure we’re ready for the next play.”
The fact that the Coyotes were able to do exactly that on Friday is perhaps direct evidence that 2013 is proving to be vastly improved from 2012, according to Klyse — whose team has already eclipsed last year’s win total.
“I think for sure last year if someone scores 15 runs against us, we’re nowhere close to being in the game,” she said. “We’re scoring runs, and that hasn’t always happened in the past.”
Having already won game one in dramatic fashion, the Coyotes appeared ready for anything but drama in game two.
A pair of 6-run innings, highlighted by a Katelyn Wudel 2-run triple and a Daly grand slam in the third, put the Coyotes ahead 13-2.
The Jackrabbits made a furious comeback, scoring 10 unanswered runs to get within 13-12 — aided by some Coyote mistakes and an Alex Landon 3-run homer.
USD responded with three runs in the bottom of the fifth, but the Jacks made things interesting by scoring three runs in the top of the seventh.
“We just have to keep a level head, and coach always says, ‘Go pitch by pitch,’” said Coyote senior pitcher Erica Denney, who got the save in game two.
“If you do that, you don’t focus on what could happen, you worry about that play going on.”
In what was a back-and-forth first game, SDSU pulled ahead 5-4 after a 3-run top of the fifth inning. Yankton native Christine Broders put the Coyotes in front 6-5 with an RBI double in the bottom of the sixth.
The Jackrabbits tied the game at 6-6 in the sixth on an RBI double by Elyse Eitel, but USD relief pitcher Madison Frain got the next three hitters out to end the threat.
With the bases loaded in the seventh inning, Daly sent a line drive to right-center field to score the game-winning run.
For the Coyotes, who had four players batting at least .300 before Friday, it wasn’t exactly a surprise to see a clutch hit, Daly said.
“We’ve been hitting the crap out of the ball, honestly,” she said. “The biggest difference between this year and last year is our hitting.”
True to form, the Coyotes were a study in balance on Friday.
On the day, freshman Yvon Minogue had five hits and five RBI, while Lindsey Boyd and Katie Cochran both added four hits. Broders finished with three hits.
Having already won the series and therefore earning a point in the South Dakota Showdown Series, the Coyotes will look for a weekend sweep in today’s (Saturday) final game at noon in Vermillion.
With the season setting up for a potential Summit League Tournament run, USD is instead keeping things simple.
“What we’re working right now is that every game is our most important game, not look at where we’re at and where the standings are at,” Klyse said.
You can follow Jeremy Hoeck on Twitter at twitter.com/jhoeck