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Kimminau, FHSU prepare for weekend slate


Junior Kelsey Kimminau opened her career at NCAA Division I University of Minnesota. Kimminau, from Arvada, Colo., delivered a 5.32 earned-run average in 23.2 innings as a freshman and a 5.44 ERA in 36 innings last season. Then, she transferred to Fort Hays State University, and, along with sophomore Paxton Duran, are the Tigers' two starting pitchers.

Kimminau enjoys Hays, coach Erin Kinberger and three-year starting senior catcher Callie Wright. Especially early, Kimminau pitched very well and even started some Game 1s of doubleheaders, usually reserved for the team's ace.

"They know how to work hard for it," Kimminau said of the differences between Hays and Minnesota. "Instead of just hoping that it's given to them. Everybody wants it out here. Everybody is out here, and they are having fun and playing a game they have played since they were little kids instead of just showing up at the ball field. It's nice, everybody works hard."

Kimminau has been up-and-down recently, one of the reasons why Fort Hays is 8-8 in its last 16 games. FHSU, still receiving votes in the latest NCAA Division II poll, stands at 22-13, 11-5 MIAA, good for third place in the league standings.

This weekend, Fort Hays has two key road doubleheaders on Friday and Saturday at Missouri Western State University (22-14, 7-7 MIAA) and Northwest Missouri State University (14-18, 7-7 MIAA). Start time is 4 p.m. Friday and 11 a.m. Saturday.

"I have been trying to do too much lately, and I just need to keep it simple," Kimminau said. "My teammates helped me realize that."

Last Saturday, Kimminau, a hard throwing right-hander, worked a 7-0 complete game home shutout against Lincoln (Mo.) University.

"We all knew that Kelsey had all that power in her," sophomore third baseman Jenna Lang said. "We have seen it practice all the time, so it was good for it to come out in a game."

Kimminau mixed several pitches, including a fastball, changeup, drop and screwball. Her favorite pitch is the changeup, which caught several Blue Tigers off-guard.

"She kept her ball down and inside was throwing us off," Lincoln coach Nicole Stacy added. "We are not one to swing at the inside."

Kimminau, allowed five hits and struck out six against zero walks.

"I still don't think you have seen Kelsey's 'A' game," Kinberger said. "I think that she has got even more to offer in the circle for us. I am proud of the way that she came out (Saturday)."

On Sunday, though, Kimminau struggled in a 10-3 loss against Lindenwood (Mo.) University, a sub-.500 team. She allowed seven hits and four runs (none earned) in 1.2 innings.

Overall, Kimminau stands at 8-6 with a 3.01 ERA. Tiger sophomore ace right-hander Paxton Duran is 13-5 with a 2.48 ERA.

In 16 starts, Kimminau has allowed zero earned runs four times - same as Duran.

The difference comes in consistency. Duran has allowed more than three runs four times; Kimminau has done in seven times.

Duran has moved into the league's elite pitchers with a 5-0 mark and 0.99 ERA in her last six appearances with five complete games in five starts.

In her last eight starts, Kimminau has two shutouts - but pitched less than five innings five times.

"If she can keep the teams to five hits or less, then we are going to find a way to win for her," Kinberger said.

Kimminau's performance is likely key for the Tigers staying among the top three in the conference as the regular season enters its final full month. Emporia State is 16-0 and ranked No. 7 nationally, while defending national champion University of Central Oklahoma sits at 15-1 and is receiving votes.

Teams three through eight are all .500 or better in league play and sit with five, six or seven losses, including the Tigers, Missouri Western and Northwest Missouri.

Missouri Western has senior right-hander Jackie Bishop, a former All-American, MIAA Pitcher of the Year and two-time first team all-league pitcher. Bishop stands at 14-6 with a 0.92 ERA with three no-hitters this season.

Last year, Bishop and FHSU All-American ace Maddie Holub dueled in a classic, a 2-1, 12-inning Tiger victory in Hays. All three runs scored by the international tiebreaker. Holub threw 195 pitches, Bishop 155. Then, FHSU defeated Bishop again, 3-0, in the MIAA tournament on a three-run seventh-inning homer by center fielder Amanda Vaupel.

Tiffany Gillaspy paces the Griffons in hitting and batted .615 last week en route to MIAA Player of the Week honors. FHSU sophomore second baseman Courtney Dobson leads the Tigers with a .387 average.

Bishop, UCO ace Kalynn Shrock and Duran stand 1-2-3 in the league in opponents' batting average, strikeouts and rank 2-3-4 in wins. FHSU is 5-3 in the last four doubleheaders with all three losses coming in Kimminau's starts.

On March 25, Kimminau was knocked out early in a non-conference loss to Metropolitan State College of Denver. Afterward, Kinberger said Kimminau needed to improve "her mental toughness," also a theme for the team.

Wright has also helped better Kimminau's mindset. Four days later, Kimminau bounced back with the big performance against Lincoln - followed by the struggles versus Lindenwood.

"I have learned how to keep my head," Kimminau said. "Coach K is a very strong mentally coach. She has got it together, and she is trying to teach us how to be strong, and it's a process, and I think that's what I am learning from her. ... I definitely trust her, she knows what she is doing."