AMES — Madison Frain is finding that the hitting zone of a Division I softball player can be an unforgiving place for even the slightest mistake.
Frain was within an out of closing out a University of South Dakota victory Tuesday in the opener of a doubleheader at Iowa State, after relieving starter Rachel Cue, who took a batted ball to the side of the chin to start the fourth inning.
That fourth inning ended with South Dakota still holding a 4-1 lead, and the Coyotes were still in front 5-3 as late as two outs and one on base against Frain, the former Creston all-state lefthander, in the bottom of the seventh.
That’s when ISU catcher Rachael Hartman blasted a two-run homer between the 200 and 220-foot signs in left and center to send the game into extra innings tied at 5-5.
“It was just a flat pitch,” Frain said. “It was a screwball that didn’t spin as much as it should have, and it just hung over the plate too long. I knew it right away.”
ISU put away the game in the eighth. Maddie Reese led off with a single and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt. Two batters later, Lexi Slater made the game-winning hit past the shortstop to bring Reese home for the 6-5 victory.
Frain, who’s been working as the No. 2 starter behind the freshman Cue from California, is adjusting to the caliber of hitters she’s facing in Division I softball. She has a 9-9 record and 3.51 ERA along with 113 hits allowed, 61 strikeouts and 51 walks in 93.2 innings pitched.
“It’s so different from high school,” Frain said. “At this level, they hit every mistake hard.”
Frain said it was stressful to quickly warm up in the fourth inning when Cue was injured. Originally, she was projected to start the second game.
“I had about five minutes to warm up when she was laying on the ground,” Frain said, “but I was worried about her, too! It was pretty nerve-wracking, but I think I was ready.”
South Dakota took the nightcap 12-3 as freshman Kayla Fields picked up her second win in just her third start of the season.
“That was a big step for Kayla,” Frain said.
Iowa State (21-23) led the second game 2-0 through three innings. But the Coyote offense exploded for 12 runs during the next four innings, including a three-run homer by first baseman Yvon Minogue and a two-run shot by Morgan Hancock.
The series with Iowa State marked the final non-conference games of the regular season for South Dakota (25-17). The Coyotes return to action Friday for a doubleheader against South Dakota State in Brookings.