By Jim Henry
Globe Sports Editor
Playing home games in one of the smallest softball parks in the MIAA certainly contributes to Pittsburg State’s conference-high 33 home runs this season.
More distant fences proved to be no problem as the Gorillas belted five homers at the more spacious Lea Kungle Field while sweeping Missouri Southern 7-1 and 7-2 Wednesday night.
Pittsburg State (17-16, 6-0 MIAA) is off to its best start in league play since 1994 when it started 9-0 en route to a share of the league title.
“You can feel the confidence building,” Gorillas first-year coach Elizabeth Economon said. “That was one of the things we knew we needed to change when we got here. That was going to be part of the culture change. You preach it, you believe it, and it’s contagious. It’s a good feeling.”
The Gorillas also earned the Sonic Trophy Series point for softball. Missouri Southern leads the series 5-4 with points remaining for baseball, golf and men’s and women’s track and field.
The Gorillas’ Brenna George homered over the right-field fence on the fifth pitch of the first game, and Mannie DeCastro hit a two-run shot to left to ignite a four-run seventh inning.
Tiffany Brown connected for two homers in the nightcap, giving her 12 for the season. Her two-run homer gave PSU the lead in the first inning, and she led off the fifth with a shot over the 225-foot sign in straightaway center field. Devon McCreath started the sixth with a homer just inside the left-field foul pole.
“If anybody saw our homers at home, they would clear a normal fence (distance),” Economon said. “We just have the luxury of having a short porch. We preach the line drive, and it has been working for us so far. They take good swings at good pitches.”
“They crushed it,” Lions coach Bill Gray said. “We threw from behind in the count. Lydia Niemegeers caught the first game, and one thing she said after the game was when we got ahead in the count, they couldn’t hit the ball. When we got behind in the count, they relaxed, got a pitch they could drive, and they drove it. They swing the bat really well. We got behind in the count, pitches didn’t go where they were supposed to go, and they landed over the fence.
“I’m still trying to figure out where Brown came from because she had one at-bat against us last year. And she’s hit 12 home runs now.”
Missouri Southern (12-19, 4-2) suffered through a frustrating night that saw the Lions put runners on base in almost every inning but not deliver the key hit. The Lions had eight hits in each game but stranded seven baserunners in the first game and 11 in the nightcap.
“We left a small island on base,” Gray said. “And every time we needed a hit, they made a play. Coach Economon has them going in the right direction. Those kids are playing hard — and I’m not saying ours are not either — but those kids are playing hard and they believe right now.”
Brown had three hits in each game as the Gorillas collected 10 hits in the first game and 11 in the finale.
DeCastro, who hit her eighth homer this season, had two hits and three RBI in the first game. McCreath went 3-for-3 in the nightcap, and Cheslyn Mitchell contributed two hits after being hit by a pitch four times in the opener.
The Lions pulled within 3-1 in the first game on Haley Pypes’ two-out RBI triple down the right-field line in the third inning. The Lions put the tying runs in scoring position with one out in each of the next two innings, but Brooke Swadley’s popout to first became an inning-ending double play in the fourth, and Gorilla pitcher Hilary Erbert retired the last two batters in the fifth on a grounder back to the circle and a strikeout.
“That’s something we’ve been working on hard because that didn’t happen for us at the beginning,” Economon said. “That was something we had to go over and over. You have to be stingy every inning because no lead is safe. It’s such a hitter’s game that it doesn’t matter what the score is.”
Erbert (8-8) struck out five batters and walked none while allowing an unearned run.
Niemegeers and Brooklyn Farrell had two hits apiece for the Lions in the first game, and Breanna Volkmann, Brianna Fulkerson and Shelby Romines all had two hits in the nightcap. Fulkerson drove in a run with a second-inning single, and a throwing error by pitcher Jessica Barnes (3-2) gave the Lions a run in the fourth.