Saturday's Bemidji State softball home opener may not have turned out the way the Beavers wanted, but it marked a welcome step forward for a nomadic group that returned home to BSU Softball Field for the first time in nearly two years.
"It's very nice to be back on our home field," Bemidji State senior Bridget Smith said. "It has been a little frustrating over the last few years to play all of our games away and on top of it all, we haven't been able to practice much on this field - we couldn't practice on it at all last year."
The Beavers lost 3-1 and 9-0 to Augustana Saturday in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference doubleheader in the first home games at BSU since May 1, 2007.
The collegiate softball season begins in February, so it is not unusual for BSU to play much of the first half of the season on the road. It is rare to lose an entire home schedule, even with the unpredictable spring weather in northern Minnesota.
The 2008 BSU home softball season was lost to the March rain and April blizzards that saturated the field and rendered it unplayable.
There were postponements, but those games were either canceled or moved to opponent's fields.
"It's awful tough to lose your home field advantage for that long and these players have been really excited to get back here and play," Bemidji State first-year head coach Jeremy Popp said.
The Beavers continue the weekend homestand with doubleheaders against conference-leading Wayne State today and Monday against Northern State. Today's first pitch is set for 11 a.m. and Monday's first pitch is set for 2 p.m.
"We've been really looking forward to this weekend," Bemidji State senior Mara Johnson said. "These are really big games for us right now and we were hoping for at least a split (against Augustana). We just couldn't get the hits when we needed them."
The Beavers are still in the Northern Sun playoff hunt, which advances the top eight teams to the postseason. Bemidji State has 14 games left on the on the regular season schedule, so the six games this weekend will go a long way in determining if the Beavers make the playoffs when the season ends April 28.
Losing two games to Augustana was not the ideal start to the homestand for BSU, but not many teams in the Northern Sun have fared well against the Vikings this season. Augustana improved its record to 21-19 overall and 12-3 in the NSIC.
The Beavers dropped to 8-18 overall and 3-11 in the expanded NSIC this season.
It is already an improved season for the Beavers, which finished with six overall wins last season.
And two of the three conference wins this season came against Southwest Minnesota State and Concordia-St. Paul, which are a combined 25-5 in the NSIC this season.
"It's really been a pretty good season so far," Johnson said. "We've been improving every year since I've been here and those three wins against Southwest, Concordia and St. Cloud were huge and big in the conference for us."
In Game 1 against Augustana, the Beavers had trouble with Augustana pitcher Chelsey Durland, who took a perfect game into the sixth inning.
Smith broke up Durland's bid for the perfect game with a single.
By then, the Vikings had a 3-0 lead with single runs in the second, fourth and fifth innings.
Bemidji State broke the shutout when Amy Klaers' single to left field scored Kasey Callison.
"We just didn't start hitting the ball until it was too late and we couldn't produce the runs," Johnson said. "We couldn't hit the ball and we weren't able to turn on those inside pitches."
Durland pitched the complete game and gave up the one earned run on four hits. She struck out four and walked one.
Courtney Anderson pitched the entire game for the Beavers and allowed three earned runs on six hits. She struck out three and walked none.
Game 2 was all Augustana. The Vikings powered out to an early 5-0 after a four-run second inning.
Augustana made it 7-0 with two runs in the top of the fourth and went up 9-0 with two runs in the sixth.
Bemidji State had seven hits in the game.
Karissa Hendrickson, Courtney Loegering and Klaers each had two hits in the game for BSU.
Kelly Ottis pitched the complete game for Augustana. She struck out four and walked two.
Alison Willard started the game for BSU and lasted four innings. She allowed five earned runs on eight hits, struck out one and walked one.
Jamie Lund pitched the rest of the game and allowed two earned runs on three hits. She struck out one and walked none.
"Augie is just a really tough team playing at the top of our conference right now and we're struggling with getting consistent run production," Popp said. "When we score early and get ahead - we're competitive. We're not a late-inning rally team."
If the season were to end today, the Beavers would finish 11th in the NSIC. The Beavers are currently five games back of the eighth and final playoff spot.
Smith and Johnson both said the Beavers intend on making the playoffs and one of the big strengths going in their favor is team chemistry.
"We all just get along really great," Smith said. "There's no problems within the team or anything and it's been fun this year to go out there and actually win some games. Tommorrow, we plan to come out here and pull out some wins."