Dixon, Beavers aim for repeat NSIC tourney run

Four years ago, Katie Backes admits that Jen Dixon was “a lot better” than she was.

Both were freshmen on the Minot State softball team. Maybe Dixon, who made an instant impact for the Beavers, had already reached her potential?

Wrong.

“I didn’t think she could get any better, but then every year she’s just tacked on a couple more home runs,” Backes said. “I think with her, she’s just stayed consistent, so even-keep. I think that’s what allows her to keep getting better and better.”

On Wednesday, Dixon was named to the all-Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference first team and to the league’s gold glove team both for the second straight year.

“Very, very humbling,” Backes said. “She’s the last person to ever say anything about herself. Everything she takes in such stride. It’s been a really humbling experience to play with somebody that good, but you wouldn’t even know it seeing her on the street. She’s so likable, so great to be around. Great teammate, great person.”

Dixon, the NSIC’s player of the year in 2013 and preseason player of the year in 2014, could play the final games her collegiate career this weekend.

The No. 8-seeded Beavers (28-18) play the No. 9 seed, Upper Iowa (20-26), at 10 a.m. today in the first round of the NSIC tournament. The winner will play top-seeded Minnesota State-Mankato (41-9) at 2 p.m., while the loser heads to the backdraw of the 10-team, double-elimination tournament.

“I’m going to go in there and do all that I can, probably with a little more determination if it’s possible,” Dixon said. “It’s been a fun ride with all these girls over the past four years. I’m not ready for it to be over, so we need to go win some ballgames this weekend.”

MSU was swept in home doubleheaders against Augustana and Wayne State on Friday and Saturday to end the season. The Beavers entered the weekend in sixth place and could have finished as high as fourth, but dropped two spots instead. Now, their chances of receiving an at-large bid to the NCAA Division II tournament for a second straight year have all but evaporated.

“I think we have to win it,” MSU coach Bill Triplett said. “We’re not going to save any one of our pitchers for the next game. We’ve got to try to win every game we play down there. We’re going to go down and go for it.”

The Beavers reached the NSIC tournament championship game last season before losing to MSU-Mankato. Though MSU had the No. 4 seed, not the No. 8 seed, during that run, Dixon is confident the experience will prove valuable.

“There’s no nerves involved at all,” Dixon said. “We’ve seen every single team in the tournament. We did have a lot of success last year, but we’ve had successes in areas this year, too. We’re gonna go with confidence. It’s a brand new season for us.”

Note: MSU junior Melissa Bell was named to the all-NSIC second team Wednesday after posting a .338 batting average and hitting 10 homers this season.

Ryan Holmgren covers Minot State athletics. Follow him on Twitter @ryanholmgren.