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Players in new roles for FHSU softball

By CONOR NICHOLL

cnicholl@dailynews.net

On Feb. 21, senior right-hander Katlyn Kern relieved Kelsey Kimminau in the sixth inning for the Fort Hays State University softball team. Kimminau throws much faster than Kern, who worked two scoreless innings and collected her second save in a 6-4 victory.

"She is one of a kind," Tiger sophomore second baseman Courtney Dobson said. "It's very nice to have her. You've got Kim-Kim throwing speed and then you throw the junk right after, and they can't hit it, so that's good, keep them on their toes."

Since then, Kern has delivered two other strong relief outings and is one of several Tiger returners in a new role this spring. Kern has experienced the biggest change. Last season, her first with FHSU, Kern played in 38 games (27 starts) but was mainly used for defense and finished just 2 of 10 batting.

On the mound, Kern went 0-1 with a 5.25 earned-run average in 6.2 innings, but did deliver a solid relief appearance in the NCAA Division II tournament. This season, Kern has just one at-bat, but is 1-0 with a 0.51 ERA in five appearances (all relief) with 13.2 innings. She has allowed just one run and has two saves, currently second most in the MIAA.

"KK is going to be our little 'secret weapon' that we bring in," FHSU coach Erin Kinberger said. "Really, really proud of her. She shuts them down. There is an energy when she takes the mound. This team believes in her - and we will definitely continue to use her in that position."

Fort Hays, 10-5 and ranked No. 15 in NCAA Division II, is in the middle of a 10-game homestand (five doubleheaders) that started last Friday and stretch through March 15. The Tigers' scheduled Wednesday game was called off due to weather, so the next action is the MIAA opener Friday against University of Central Missouri at 3 p.m.

"Her junk is so nasty," Tiger sophomore Tori Beltz said. "Her movement is unreal. You don't see things like that, and just her passion for it, she goes out there, she is happy and she is having a good time while she is doing it - that makes it even better."

In addition to Kern, Dobson, Beltz and senior Danie Brinkmann have all seen their roles adjust from last year. Dobson batted in the No. 2 hole last spring, but was moved to fifth this year.

Beltz started at first base in 2013, but has started every game at designated player, usually batting for Kimminau or the catcher. Brinkmann, who has battled injuries throughout her career, has moved to first.

Dobson is batting .333 with four doubles and a .422 slugging percentage.

"I call her my 'staple,'" Kinberger said. "Courtney is a great hitter and a great defender."

Last season, she batted .288 with a .351 slugging percentage and eight extra base hits (six doubles and two homers).

"Hit around the people which are in front of me," Dobson said of batting fifth. "I still have to do my job of scoring runs and getting on base. It's kind of the same."

Brinkmann carried a .317 average with five homers and 34 RBIs, while Beltz hit .300 with eight homers and 44 RBIs. This season, Brinkmann has a .325 average with 10 RBIs, tied for Beltz for the team high.

Beltz is last among regulars with a .256 average and has one of the team's seven homers. FHSU has used a regular DP often in the last several years. Last year, Paxton Duran was the starting DP in 37 games in the Tigers' 47-12 season. Christine Moses served as the DP in 45 of 50 contests two years ago, Kinberger's first as head coach.

"Hitting is my favorite aspect of the game, obviously, so I really enjoy it," Beltz said. "Anytime I get to get up to the plate is a great time for me."