Going into the final day of the softball regular season, trying to figure out who would emerge as the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference champion was …
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Going into the final day of the softball regular season, trying to figure out who would emerge as the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference champion was like attempting to predict tomorrow's weather simply by looking at the sky - it was anybody's guess.
Five teams had a shot at the top spot, including Colorado School of Mines, which was holding onto the No. 1 spot by the skin of its teeth after splitting a doubleheader with Colorado Mesa University on Saturday in Golden. Fortunately for the Orediggers, no other team capitalized on the situation.
Facing the Mavericks twice more Sunday, Mines overcame one of the strangest days of the season to capture its third RMAC crown since 2008. A two-hour delay because of a protested call made the day a long one, but ultimately the team emerged with victories of 7-2 and 11-10.
“Obviously it was really exciting for us. We talked about it at the beginning of the day that we control our own destiny,” Orediggers coach Kristie Hawkins said. “We just wanted to take control of it and do what we needed to do.”
Mines (29-22, 26-14 in the RMAC) earned the right to host the conference tournament for the second consecutive season. The top-seeded Orediggers open play at 1 p.m. on Thursday against - you guessed it - Colorado Mesa in Golden. The three-day, double-elimination tournament will be played at the CSM softball field and at Regis University, with the championship game at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday at Mines. The if-necessary game would be played at 4 p.m.
“That was our goal at the beginning of the year is we want to repeat - we want to host the tournament, be on our home field and have that advantage,” Hawkins said. “To put ourselves in that position right now, we're excited.”
Back on March 4 the Orediggers were 4-15 and only 1-7 in the conference. Since that time though, an impressive offensive rebirth has led to victories in 25 of the past 32 games. Over the previous two seasons, Mines had hit only .271 with a combined 53 home runs - this spring the team is hitting at a .303 clip with 51 home runs.
“I think we have a lot of people working hard for each other,” said junior shortstop Molly Thiebaut, who had seven hits and drove in five runs against CMU. “Last year I felt like we were kind of one person strong, where this year we're nine-strong at a given time. They don't know who to pitch to, they don't know who to pitch around - it's good dynamics.”
On Saturday junior transfer Kamee Vessey tied a school record with her 15th home run of the season. Sophomore catcher Sami Springer homered in Sunday's first game and finished the weekend 7-for-14 with eight RBIs.
“Everybody's stepped up in the lineup at different times,” Hawkins said. “It's great to know that we can trust our offense and know that we're going to ourselves run support and know that we're going to get hits in situations we need to.”
After splitting Saturday's games, Sunday got off to a lengthy start in the first game. A two-hour protest delayed the fourth inning - a collision at third base with an umpire resulted in a runner being called safe, but CMU thought differently. An official with the NCAA was eventually reached and the call overturned, but Mines went on to the 7-2 victory regardless.
Trailing by five runs in the second game, the Orediggers rallied with nine unanswered runs to wrap up the series and the conference title.
The competitive close to the conference brought back memories of 2011, when Mines and Metro State tied for the league title but the Roadrunners received the No. 1 seed via tiebreaker. The Orediggers lost their first game of that RMAC tournament, won three games in the loser's bracket but was eliminated after falling to Adams State for a second time.
“We understand it's a new season. The first game is really important for us,” Hawkins said. “We understand what happened last year and I don't think the kids want that same result.
“They're playing better this year than last year at this point. We're confident going in and just excited to be at home for it.”
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