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Trio of South Dakota institutions claim college softball conference championships

Augustana and Mount Marty each won their conference's postseason tournament, while South Dakota State claimed the Summit League regular season title.

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SIOUX FALLS — Saturday, May 7, was a good day for a trio of South Dakota college softball programs.

Augustana University punched its ticket to the NCAA Division II national tournament, and Mount Marty University secured its place in the NAIA bracket, as both programs won their respective postseason conference championships. Meanwhile, South Dakota State claimed the Summit League regular-season title.

Here’s a look at how the Vikings and Lancers reached their respective national tournaments, with an additional look at the Jackrabbits’ journey ahead of their conference tournament taking place this week.

Augustana

Success in the wake of a 2019 NCAA Division II national championship has been plentiful for the Augustana softball program.

Following the COVID-interrupted 2020 season, the Vikings found themselves back in the mix for a national title in 2021, and they’ve forced themselves into the conversation once again this season.

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At the 2022 NSIC Championships in Rochester, Minnesota, the No. 1-seeded Vikings defeated Southwest Minnesota State, 3-1, and St. Cloud State, 5-4, before sweeping through Winona State, 3-0 and 13-0.

For the season, Augustana owns a 47-8 record with a 27-3 mark in NSIC play, but over the past month, the Vikings have been nearly untouchable. Since April 3, Augustana has 28 wins to just one loss, seemingly indicating the team is rounding into championship-level form at the perfect point of the season.

The lowest individual batting average among the nine players to start 48 games or more for the Vikings in 2022 is .333, leading to an eye-popping .372 team average at the plate. That production has helped Augustana outscore opponents 450-117.

Augustana was drawn into the Central Region as the No. 3 seed, joining a four-team pod that includes first-round opponent Arkansas Tech, as well as No. 2 seed Central Oklahoma and Southern Arkansas. Action from Augustana’s section of the Central Region will begin Thursday, May 12, in Edmond, Oklahoma.

Mount Marty

Unlike their D-II counterparts, Mount Marty was not the favorite to win its conference title and automatic qualification to a national tournament. However, that didn’t stop the Lancers from charging through the GPAC postseason and into the NAIA tournament field.

At 32-14 overall and 15-7 in the conference, Mount Marty entered the conference tournament as the No. 3 seed. The Lancers’ run started with a 15-3 five-inning thrashing of the College of Saint Mary, before a pair of contests against No. 2 seed Northwestern College.

Mount Marty won the first meeting 5-3, and after NWC earned the right to a second matchup, the Lancers repelled the Raiders again, 9-5, to reach the championship series against top-seeded Midland.

In Game 1 of the best-of-three series, Midland won 4-3. The Lancers combined to score just three runs in the final two contests, but that was enough, as Mount Marty pitcher Maureena Vornhagen and the defense behind her stepped up to blank the Warriors in Games 2 (1-0) and 3 (2-0) to win the conference crown.

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Vornhagen, who improved to 12-2 in the circle for the Lancers this season, pitched all 14 innings across the second and third games, striking out 12 batters while allowing just five total hits and surrendering a single walk on 183 pitches.

Mount Marty enters the NAIA tournament having won 20 of 26 games since March 26, including separate win streaks of five and seven games during that stretch. The Lancers, seeded fourth in their pod will play No. 1-seeded University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma in the first round, with the game to take place on Monday, May 16, in Chickasha, Oklahoma.

South Dakota State

An 18-2 conference record allowed South Dakota State to claim its second-straight Summit League regular-season title. Now the Jackrabbits will look to repeat what they did in 2021 by winning the conference tournament title, too, and the NCAA tournament berth that comes with it.

Led by a dominant pitching staff, SDSU has rolled to a 37-10 overall record, with a mark of 16-1 since April 2.

Sophomore pitchers Grace Glanzer and Tori Kniesche have taken turns chewing up opponents’ lineups in the circle, as the pair has combined to pitch 286 2/3 of a possible 312 2/3 innings in 2022. Both have sub-1.80 earned run averages, helping the Jackrabbits to a team ERA of 1.90 with an opponent batting average of .197 while owning a combined win-loss mark of 35-9.

South Dakota State will host the Summit League postseason tournament, which gets underway Wednesday in Brookings. The top-seeded Jackrabbits begin their postseason on Thursday, May 12, when they face the winner of a Wednesday contest between No. 4 seed South Dakota and No. 5 seed Kansas City.

Dierks covers prep and collegiate athletics across the Mitchell Republic's coverage region area, focusing on Mitchell High School football and boys basketball and area high school football, volleyball and basketball, as well as Dakota Wesleyan women's basketball. He was also the lead on the Mitchell Republic Gridiron Spotlight, producing video and providing live play-by-play for the traveling weekly prep football broadcast during its first season in the fall of 2021. Dierks is a Mitchell native who graduated from South Dakota State University with his bachelor's degree in journalism in May 2020. He joined the Mitchell Republic sports staff in August 2021. He can be reached at ldierks@mitchellrepublic.com and found on Twitter at @LDierksy.
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