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The Leavenworth Times - Leavenworth, KS
  • Turning it around: USM softball records program's best conference finish 

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  • Going into Tuesday, the top two teams in the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference softball standings were locked in, but Bethany College, Friends University and the University of Saint Mary were battling for the next three spots before next week's conference tournament.
    Friends and USM split Tuesday's doubleheader to finish tied at 11-7 in conference play.
    Results from other games and tiebreakers will determine who gets what seed, but no matter what happens, USM will record its best conference finish.
    "It's pretty awesome my last year finally doing something good and going out with a bang," senior Jenna Hansen said.
    Hansen, along with seniors Steeli Norton and Victoria Toplikar, were honored between games for senior day.
    "It was really sad because I've been here all four years, but it was nice ending with a win," Toplikar said.
    Norton said it's great being on the team that turned the program around.
    "I'm really glad this is the season I get to go out on," she said.
    Norton started game one in the pitcher's circle and limited Friends to one run through the first six innings. Friends plated two runs in the seventh and added five more in the next two innings to win 8-6.
    Toplikar picked up the win in game two by allowing six runs and striking out five in seven innings.
    USM won 7-6 to stay tied with Friends in the standings.
    "To do it against a good team like that late in the season is huge," head coach Michael Evans said. "I wish we would have played better at moments throughout the day, but when you lose the first game, the second game is huge and I'm very pleased with the split."
    USM scored three runs in the first inning of game one and took a 3-1 lead into the seventh inning.
    Friends hit a home run to left with one out and singled in a two-out run to tie the game. The teams traded two runs in the eighth, but Friends outscored USM 3-1 in the ninth to win.
    Friends scored once in the first inning of game two, but USM's bats connected in the bottom half and plated six runs.
    USM used five singles and two doubles to score the runs. Toplikar singled and Norton scored on an error to get the scoring started.
    Junior Rebecca Eatough singled in Toplikar. Junior Jessica Saldana sneaked one past the third baseman for a double to drive in Eatough and freshman Emilee Biondo.
    Junior Tiffany Craig doubled in Saldana and junior Kim Piatt singled in Craig to finish it off.
    "We came out firing from the get-go both games," Evans said. "But basically the six innings after that first inning we just, for some reason, shut down. That's something we've kind of talked about a lot these last couple weeks is when you have a team down, you just got to keep coming at them."
    Page 2 of 2 - Friends scored once in the third and blasted a two-out grand slam in the fifth inning to get within one run.
    Toplikar said she approached the final two innings focusing on locating her pitches.
    "I knew that I had to hit all my spots and not give up anymore runs," she said.
    Toplikar limited Friends to one hit the rest of the game.
    "That's the one thing I'll say about Victoria is that girl flat out competes," Evans said. "She's her harshest critic, but that's something I think throughout the season she's gotten a lot better at. Earlier in the season if she gave up that grand slam she might have fallen apart. We really worked on our mental state to get over it."
    USM will finish the regular season with a non-confernece doubleheader at 1 p.m. Saturday at Central Christian College.
    USM won five of its final six conference games of the season, so confidence is high heading into the KCAC Tournament, which is May 1 and 2 in Great Bend.
    "I think we all feel really confident, and we should," Norton said. "I think we've come so far this year and we are not going to take mediocre. We are just going to keep going and try and win it."

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