Pittsburg State lost the first game of a Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association doubleheader before coming back in the second for the split against Fort Hays State at the PSU Softball Complex.
Fort Hays' Callie Wright hit the game-winning home run in the ninth inning during a 6-5 victory in Game 1 and Pitt State plated one in the first, four in the second and six in the third for the 11-3 victory in Game 2.
"Big win in Game 2," Pitt State head coach Elizabeth Economon said. "That's a game that we have to have moving forward trying to get to the postseason. I thought we did a pretty good job in Game 1. Made a few errors early and it came back and haunted us a little bit. For the most part, we hit the ball well. We just couldn't get the big hit at the right time. Tough to lose a one-run game but big for us to come back and pound the ball the next game."
Freshman catcher Nicole Nease hit the Gorillas' 60th and 61st home runs of the season, which set a brand new team record. Nease needs one more homer to give the Gorillas three players with at least 10 round trippers, joining Tiffany Brown (23) and McKenzie Rynard (14). Pitt State's outhomered its opponents 61-29.
However, the real focus Saturday was on Pitt State seniors Brown, Brenna George, Samantha Grove and Haleigh Sills, who were honored between games.
"Haleigh Sills threw great today," Economon said. "She made that one mistake today that haunted us but she threw great. She's going to keep people off-balance her whole career. Couldn't ask for a nicer kid. So happy to have her. Wish she could stay one more year.
"Sam obviously did a great job in Game 2. She has a little more power. She has the competitive edge. She wants to win. She wants the ball. Fun to hang out with, fun to be around, a joy to practice with and to coach.
"Brenna George, obviously the fastest kid we've got. She's a menace on the basepaths. She's a good team leader.
"It's the same thing for all of them. It's exactly what you want of your leadership. It's what you want your younger kids to strive to be.
"Tiffany Brown, I don't know if there are enough words to describe that kid. One of the best natural athletes I've ever seen with so much heart and is never satisfied, never gives up, always wants more. She's going to get in the cage and work harder tomorrow so she can help the team win. I've never coached anybody like her and I don't know if I will again or not. She's very, very special. Thankfully, they're all on our side."
Brown will end her career as the school's all-time home runs leader — currently at 52 —and George will be the school's all-time leading base stealer. She's currently at 67 steals.
"If it wasn't for my teammates, I wouldn't be where I am today," Brown said. "They always encourage and support me to be the best I can be. Coach is always telling me to win each pitch and take advantage of the pitcher's mistakes. They are the real reason why I'm so successful."
"It's really awesome," George said. "It's great to be in the record books. It's awesome that it's stealing bases because that's one of my strong points."
Brown, George and Grove have been in the Pitt State program four years and for all three of Economon's seasons as head coach.
"It's fun to see us grow together and each of us succeed," George said. "(We) have each other's backs."
"Besides Haleigh, we've been together since our freshmen year," Brown said. "We've been kind of shaky but it hasn't broke our bond as a team. We've actually gotten a lot closer since the season's gone on."
In the first game, Pitt State took a 3-0 lead on a three-run homer by Nease.
Fort Hays tied it up with one in the second and two in the third, both runs in the third of the unearned variety.
Pitt State went back up two in the fourth behind a Kylie Harpst RBI double. Harpst scored the second run on a wild pitch.
Fort Hays tied it back up the next half-inning, tying run scored unearned.
The score remained the same until Wright's homer leading off the ninth.
Down 2-1 in the second of the second game, Pitt State took control of the game with a patented offensive explosion over the next two at-bats.
"We have good leadership," Economon said. "We have kids that are on their way out, as we honor them today, that want the ball all the time, they want to be at the plate all the time. They want to win every single pitch. Following them is easy. It makes all our jobs a lot easier. As much as we are a little bit of a rollercoaster, we can bounce back easily. You have to have short-term memory in this sport. It will haunt you. It's such a sport of failure."
Cheslyn Mitchell cracked a bases-clearing three-run double and McKenzie Rynard plated Mitchell with a RBI single, accounting for the four in the second.
George collected a RBI single and Nease a two-run homer in the six-run third.
"It was good to come out after the first game and just take it to 'em," George said. "It feels good to win on Senior Day."
"It took the loss in the first game to fuel the fire for us," Brown said. "It took every single one of us to win that game and we all did our job."
Pitt State remains .500 overall at 23-23 and its 9-13 MIAA record places the Gorillas in the 10th spot in the standings, two games behind a trio of teams 11-11 in Northeastern State, Lindenwood and Northwest Missouri. The top eight teams qualify for the postseason tournament.
Weather permitting, the Gorillas have four nonconference games remaining on their 18-game homestand — Newman on Tuesday, Drury on Wednesday.
Pitt State's final four MIAA games — against Southwest Baptist and Central Missouri — will be away from the friendly confines of the PSU Softball Complex.
TIGERS 6, GORILLAS 5 (9 INNINGS)
FHSU 012 020 001 — 6 7 0
PSU 300 200 000 — 5 8 3
Paxton Duran and Samantha Villarreal, Callie Wright. Kylie Harpst, Haleigh Sills (5) and Nicole Nease. WP: Duran (16-7). LP: Sills (4-6). E: Kylie Guthier, Alex Perez, Avery Beard. HR: Wright; Nease. 2B: Amanda Vaupel; Harpst. SH: Bianca Adame. SB: Adame, Courtney Dobson, Amy Dunn; Brenna George. LOB: FHSU 6, PSU 4. A: 443.
GORILLAS 11, TIGERS 3 (5 INNINGS)
FHSU 020 01 — 3 5 2
PSU 146 0X — 11 15 1
Kelsey Kimminau, Katlyn Kern (3), Paxton Duran (3), Jordan Jones (4) and Callie Wright. Samantha Grove and Nicole Nease. WP: Grove (11-10). LP: Kimminau (9-7). E: Kylie Strand, Amanda Vaupel; Avery Beard. HR: Nease. 2B: Wright; Cheslyn Mitchell, Alex Perez. SH: Courtney Dobson, Vaupel. SF: Mitchell. SB: Tiffany Brown. LOB: FHSU 3, PSU 7. A: 413.