The most successful season in Fort Lewis College softball history in terms of wins came to a close Saturday as the No. 8 seed Skyhawks fell 4-1 to No. 4 seed Minnesota-Duluth in the double-elimination NCAA Division II Softball Central Region Tournament in Mankato, Minn.
The Skyhawks (30-26), much like in Friday’s loss to Minnesota State-Mankato, managed to get enough runners on base to have a shot but couldn’t get the timely hit off Bulldogs pitcher Megan Mullen (26-15).
FLC’s best chance to break through came in the fifth. Trailing 2-0, Fort Lewis got on the board when Erica Conley’s RBI single plated pinch runner Breanna Berens. Destinee DeHerrera reached on an error, and she and Conley moved up on a wild pitch to put two in scoring position with one out.
But Mullen got Cierra Walters to pop out and Chelsea Rodriguez to strike out to end the threat.
“We didn’t quite get that hit. ... We get them on, and we were definitely looking for the big hit to get them in,” FLC head coach Kira Zeiter said.
“We’ve put up more than four runs plenty of times. It could’ve been in our grasp.”
The Bulldogs (38-21) put up two more runs in the bottom of the fifth on a Whitney Strantz sacrifice fly and Jordan Rice’s RBI single.
Fort Lewis put two runners on with nobody out in the seventh but couldn’t crack Mullen for any more runs before the curtain fell on the season.
“She used (her rise ball) very effectively. She had good pop on her pitches ... and that was a good combo to have,” Zeiter said of Mullen.
Alexis Villegas (9-9) was strong in a losing effort, going six innings and allowing four runs on nine hits while striking out four and walking three.
Conley, Walters, Hayley Bolyard and Jordan Willis all had one hit for FLC.
Fort Lewis fell to 0-4 all-time in NCAA Tournament games, having fallen twice in 2008 – the school’s only other appearance.
The loss marked the end of stellar careers for Willis, Natalie Janes and Stephanie Janes. FLC, however, will return the bulk of its roster, and Zeiter said the experience at the NCAAs should make next year’s squad hungry for more.
“Once you’re here, you want to be back every year,” she said. “And that’s what we expect now. Now that we’re here, now that we’ve been here and tasted it, now we’re going to expect to do it every year from now on.”