Kat Miska wasn't quite as sharp as her record-setting self Wednesday at Trapper Field, but who cares?
Miska and the University of Jamestown softball team played their first home games since dropping a pair to visiting Northwestern College, Iowa, on April 19, 2019 -- a span of 719 days.
"We're all seniors now and I've only pitched two previous times on this field and the last time was two years ago," Miska said. "So I think for all of us it's just very surreal and it means a lot to be able to actually get a home game in."
Miska allowed three hits and struck out 10 batters in a 12-2, five-inning Jimmies' victory over visiting Dordt University to begin a Great Plains Athletic Conference doubleheader. UJ later completed the sweep, rolling 8-6 in game 2.
Thinly painted corners on the strike zone frustrated the two-time 2021 GPAC pitcher of the week, as Miska walked six Defenders, but Gracie Fisher's first collegiate home run in the second inning and a three-run blast off the bat of Morgan Geiszler in an eight-run Jimmie fourth produced all the offense Miska would need to improve to 11-1 on the season.
Miska entered the game with 22 walks in 13 appearances but was leading the conference in ERA (0.97), opposing batting average (.169), and strikeouts per game (12.74). She pushed her GPAC-leading strikeouts total to 141.
Her six walks, however, were a season-high.
"Honestly, I was just getting a little frustrated I think," Miska said. "I didn't get some calls and I think sometimes when you know that something should've gotten a call and you're not getting it, it kinda flusters you a little bit.
"But after that I just kinda realized, 'You know how to pitch ... relax, breathe and just do your thing.'"
University of Jamestown softball coach Kevin Gall said working through frustration isn't always a bad thing.
"She was probably a little anxious pitching at home, just trying to do too much," Gall said. "A lot of two-strike counts that they worked to earn a walk and that kinda stuff. Stuff that annoys coaches, but she'll be better for it in the future going through that adversity."
Fisher, UJ's freshman third baseman from Bemidji, Minnesota, took a 1-1 pitch from Dordt starter Abby Kraemer to straightaway center in the second to put the Jimmies out front 2-0.
It took a little time for the Jimmie hitters to warm up to Dordt's ace. Kraemer (7-7) had the second-best opposing batting average in the league entering (.184) and her 109 strikeouts are also second in the GPAC.
UJ first baseman Kassi Ward, who received three Kraemer curveballs in her first at-bat, said the Jimmies were looking for breaking balls away. Ward was one of five Jimmie batters to hit 2-for-3 in the game, adding a run-scoring double in a two-run Jamestown third.
"She was just living on that curveball and we talked about it," Ward said. "We said, 'Hey, look for that outside pitch, take it the other way' and that's what we started doing and really broke it open."
The Jimmies batted around in the fourth, sending 12 batters to the plate and eight hits -- including both a double and a single off the bat of freshman second baseman Jenna Remenar -- fueled the eight-run fire.
Geiszler's three-run blast to dead center in the frame was a no-doubter, clearing both fences in the outfield. The outer chain link fence is marked at a distance of 249 feet away from home plate and sailed over with ease. The dinger was the sixth of the season for the junior shortstop.
"I was jumping so high," Miska laughed. "She hit it over the second fence. That's something, 250."
After taking a year off from softball in 2020, Miska has impressed in her return. Arguably the GPAC's best arm, she spurred UJ to a 2-1 victory over previously No. 2-ranked University of Science & Arts, Oklahoma -- currently ranked No. 3 -- on March 11.
Miska also broke her own single-game strikeout record with 18 punchouts in a 1-0 victory over Dickinson State on Feb. 20. Wednesday was the ninth time the Pequot Lakes, Minnesota, native produced double-digit strikeouts in her 12 starts, clearing 15 or more four times.
"I came back this year to play for the team, not for myself," Miska said. "Setting records, that's great and everything, but I just wanna help the team succeed. I wanna end this year (as) the best season Jimmie softball's ever had.
"I wanna give it back to those girls who were there for me way back freshman year and things like that."
But the afternoon chatter mostly centered around once again playing softball in Jamestown. The NAIA suspended and later canceled spring sports last season due to the ongoing pandemic.
"It's honestly kinda weird," Ward said. "We didn't get to play a game last year at Trapper Field and the year before was one game. It just makes it super special."
Jimmies 8, Defenders 6
Former Jamestown High School all-state center fielder Mariah Wick all but smiled the expression of relief to be once again playing softball at home.
Listed as a junior on the roster -- with the likes of Miska and Ward after the NAIA granted all of its athletes an extra year of eligibility if they so choose to return for another year -- Wick uncorked a two-run triple in a four-run fourth in game 2, finishing the day 5-for-7 with two doubles, a triple, a pair of RBIs and four runs scored.
"We have been waiting for this day for a really long time," Wick said. "We love playing at home ... it just felt like forever."
Jamestown pitcher Katie Merchant earned the win, but UJ dug itself out of deficits of 2-0, 4-2, and 5-4. Geiszler tied the game at 5-5 with an RBI double in the fourth, prior to being sent home on Wick's two-run triple. Wick later trotted home on a Ward double to right.
The Jimmies swatted 14 extra-base hits Wednesday: nine doubles, a triple, and four home runs. Geiszler led off the bottom half of the first with her second dinger of the day -- and seventh of the season -- and Sydney Prussia went yard for two runs in the third.
"We are putting the bat on the ball and walking up there with good approaches, and the whole team is doing that," Wick explained. "We're keeping our approaches simple."
Jamestown, improving to 23-7 overall and 6-2 in the conference, clubbed 27 hits in the two games.
"Some girls are coming around a little bit and some are up and down," Gall said. "But we're in there grinding and trying to make positive things happen."
The Jimmies will continue its current homestand Saturday hosting Briar Cliff University for a pair of games beginning at 1 p.m. The Chargers are 13-15 overall, 2-6 in the GPAC, and host Dakota State University tomorrow (April 8).
"They're a scrappy bunch. They hustle and play hard," Gall said. "We gotta expect to play a full seven (innings), play solid defense, and hopefully not give them too many runs."
With 14 conference games left on the schedule, Wick likes the Jimmies' current trajectory.
"We're gonna get better with every game," Wick said. "We're going to be playing our best at the end of the year, just like we're supposed to, and take it from there."
University of Jamestown 12, Dordt University 2
DU 002 00 -- 2 3 1
UJ 022 80 -- 12 13 2
Batteries: D, Abby Kraemer, Kayla Zevenbergen (4) and Karlie Olsen. J, Kat Miska and Katie Reisdorfer. W-Miska. L-Kraemer.
Highlights: D, Kraemer 3 IP, 10 H, 10 ER, 0 BB, 3 SO, 65 TP; Zevenbergen 1 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 0 BB, 3 SO; Hannah Sikkema 1-2, RBI; Hailey Heeringa 1-3, RBI.
J, Miska 5 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 6 BB, 10 SO, 109 TP; Morgan Geiszler 1-3, HR, 3 RBI; Mariah Wick 2-3, 2B; Kassi Ward 2-3, 2B, 3 RBI; Reisdorfer 2-3, 2B, 2 RBI; Gracie Fisher 2-3, HR, 2 RBI; Jenna Remenar 2-3, 2B, 2 RBI; Sydney Prussia 1-3, 2B.
Records: Jamestown 22-7, 5-2 GPAC; Dordt 15-16, 4-5.
University of Jamestown 8, Dordt University 6
DU 202 101 0 -- 6 9 1
UJ 112 400 0 -- 8 14 4
Batteries: D, Rachel Evavold and Karlie Olsen. J, Katie Merchant and Katie Reisdorfer. W-Reisdorfer. L-Evavold.
Highlights: J, Mariah Wick 3-4, 2B, 3B, 2 RBI; Morgan Geiszler 2-3, HR, 2B, 2 RBI; Sydney Prussia 2-2, HR, 2 RBI; Jenna Remenar 2-3, 2B; Lauren Diemert 3-3, RBI; Kassi Ward 1-4, 2B.
Records: Jamestown 23-7, 6-2 GPAC; Dordt 15-17, 4-6.