Bats heating up

If Jen Dixon’s second-inning grand slam was any indication – it went on and on and on, maybe even reached the Minot State library – Bemidji State was in for a long day.

MSU tallied 15 hits in each game of a Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference doubleheader Thursday at Herb Parker Stadium, routing BSU 17-1 and 11-1.

Dixon, the preseason NSIC player of the year, went 2-for-3 with a double, her fifth homer of the year, five RBIs and a walk while playing left field in the first game. In the nightcap, she limited BSU to one hit and one run over six innings and recorded a career-high 10 strikeouts to improve to 6-1 in the circle. Senior outfielder Katie Backes provided Dixon with plenty of run support, finishing 5-for-5 with six RBIs and four runs scored.

“This team can hit. If you don’t have great pitching, this team will put some runs on you,” MSU coach Bill Triplett said. “But then today, we pitched really well, too. All three of our pitchers looked good and pitched strikes. It was a good day for us.”

That might be putting it mildly.

MSU (18-8 overall, 5-3 NSIC) put up 13 runs before BSU (11-11, 0-6) could scratch one across.

With the bases chalked, the right-handed Dixon blasted a 3-2 pitch from BSU reliever Allison Roberts to right-center field. The ball boomed over the outfield fence and another chain link fence, traveling upwards of 275 feet.

“It was full count, so I figured she was going to walk me or throw it down the middle to get me out. She threw it right down the middle and I just got a hold of it,” Dixon said, wryly.

That put MSU, playing as the road team, ahead 13-0 midway through the second inning. In the third, BSU scored an earned run off junior starter Mindy Lorimor, who improved to 12-5 with the victory.

Lorimor allowed two hits and struck out four in three innings. Freshman Alyssa Cornejo held BSU scoreless with two hits and recorded four strikeouts in two innings of relief.

“I thought they played really well in the cold,” Backes said. “They were hitting a lot of spots, putting some speed behind the ball and hitting their spins and everything. They did an awesome job today. We didn’t have to do a whole lot defensively.”

MSU tacked on four runs in the fourth before the mercy rule was applied after five innings. Eight players reached base twice or more for MSU in the series opener. Freshman Rachel Burdette drilled a three-run home run to right-center, while Melissa Bell, Stacy Fournier and Cornejo registered two RBIs apiece.

In the second game, MSU scored 10 unanswered runs to finish the contest, plating two runs in the third, three in the fourth and five in the seventh.

Backes drove in runs on four of her five plate appearances, including her first at-bat – a solo blast to straightaway center.

“She’s seeing the ball really well, she’s getting RBIs, she’s hitting it up the middle,” Dixon said. “Everything was working well for her today.”

Dixon had been minimally relied on the past three season with standout hurlers Mandy Greenberg and Tiffany Friesen carrying much of the load. Dixon added a rise ball to her repertoire this year, proving herself as a capable starter without graduates Greenberg and Friesen around.

“She’s improving every side session. She’s starting to throw the rise ball now and she’s starting to mix it up more,” Triplett said. “She’s getting better and better and better, so I anticipate her striking some people out the rest of the season.”

The Beavers have been dominant in their past four games, outscoring Sioux Falls and BSU 42-3. Triplett admits it’s partly a product of facing inexperienced pitchers. MSU hosts Winona State on Saturday, with a doubleheader tentatively scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. The Warriors (20-4, 3-1) are receiving votes in the Division II poll.

“They’re one of the best teams in the country, with two great pitchers, so runs will be at a premium then,” Triplett said.

Ryan Holmgren covers Minot State athletics and high school sports. Follow him on Twitter @ryanholmgren.