Just in time: Cygan’s late homer lifts Beavers to sweep

It was a hit the Minot State University softball team desperately needed, one that resulted in relief more than triumph.

Sophomore shortstop Ali Cygan scorched a walk-off two-run home run in the bottom of the seventh inning against conference bottom-feeder Minnesota Crookston on Thursday, giving MSU a 3-2 win at Herb Parker Stadium and keeping alive the Beavers’ hopes of an at-large bid to the NCAA Division II Central Region tournament.

MSU (33-6 overall, 15-5 Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference) won game one of the doubleheader 10-2 in six innings on the strength of senior Tiffany Friesen’s two home runs and seven RBIs.

But in game two, the Beavers struggled to get to Crookston starter Paige Schaust, who repeatedly coaxed MSU’s batters into weak popups and groundouts.

The Golden Eagles (1-25, 2-35) looked as though they may steal a rare victory until the game’s final frame.

MSU sophomore Taylor Studler led off the seventh with a single up the middle before Cygan blasted a homer a few feet beyond the fence in left-center.

“I went up there with an aggressive instinct,” Cygan said. “I wanted to get on her. I waited for a good enough pitch that I could hit hard.”

A loss likely would have dropped the Beavers out of the Central Region rankings, which determine who makes the eight-team postseason tournament. MSU was ranked No. 7 this week, behind three other NSIC teams.

“By winning this game, I kind of feel that if we can win the next four we’re maybe getting (an at-large) bid to the regional tournament,” said MSU coach Bill Triplett, whose team plays road doubleheaders this weekend at Wayne State (Neb.) and Augustana College (S.D.).

Friesen pitched 6 1/3 innings in game two, striking out seven while giving up two runs on three hits. Fellow senior Mandy Greenberg earned her 18th win of the season by recording the final two outs and stranding a Crookston runner on second.

The Golden Eagles took the lead in the third inning of game two with a solo home run by Shelby Hollinger.

MSU tied the score at 1-1 in the fourth, but a circus catch later in the inning by Crookston left fielder Hilary Brown kept the game tied. Brown snagged a would-be home run by Studler while falling to the ground after crashing through the temporary outfield fence. Crookston appealed that MSU’s Emily Fournier left third base early to tag up, and doubled Fournier off to end the inning.

Crookston would add another run on pinch-hitter Kaylin Beatty’s RBI single in the fifth, setting the stage for Cygan’s last-inning heroics.

Friesen and Greenberg – the Beavers’ top two pitchers – were among seven players honored on Senior Day. Carmen Vargas, Corrine Gautron, Maribel Casillas, Keysha Jansen and Rachael Smith – a junior who won’t play next season – were also recognized.

“The years before Mandy and Tiff got here, we were a very good team and then they just took it to another level because they’re such a good one-two punch,” Triplett said. “Tiffany is like having two All-Americans on your team because she’s a great pitcher and then she’s a great stick also. Losing Tiff and Mandy is gonna be like losing three All-Americans.”

Greenberg ran her career record to 66-25 Saturday and pushed her school-record strikeout total to 798.

Friesen’s two homers, along with a solo shot from junior Katie Backes, led to MSU’s easy win in game one.

Crookston coach Ed Deugan refused to comment after the games.