Seniors cap off careers as UMC splits with Minot State
For Katie Humhej, there was no reason to hold back anymore.
Humhej, the former ace of the Long Island University-Post team that had made the NCAA Division II College World Series in 2019, had transferred to Minnesota Crookston to earn a graduate degree and play one final season of softball. She had thrown well over 500 innings during her time at LIU-Post, and as a result, joined the Golden Eagles with overuse issues in her right arm.
UMC coach Travis Owen made sure to control Humhej's innings and Humhej kept herself healthy, save for a stint midway through the season when she needed to be shut down. But with Sunday's doubleheader against Minot State guaranteed to be UMC's last game of the season — and of Humhej's career — she wanted to make sure to give everything she had.
Humhej put up strong numbers during her final season, at times singlehandedly keeping a young Golden Eagle team competitive. She pitched the program's first perfect game earlier this season against Viterbo, and came into Sunday having struck out 122 batters in 105.2 innings with a 3.18 earned-run average.
Wins were hard to come by for UMC this season, but during Humhej's final start, things all came together. Humhej pitched a gem, allowing only one run, and Cassie Querry's three-run homer in the fourth inning gave the Golden Eagles the lead for good in a 4-1 victory over the Beavers.
"It's hard to speak higher of the leadership she brings and the presence in the circle," Owen said of Humhej on Sunday. "Anyone would want someone like that as part of their program."
Occasionally it's not too late for an old dog to learn new tricks. Humhej's best pitch has always been her rise ball, while she's also made frequent use of a screwball. On Sunday, though, it was her newest pitch — a low-outside drop ball — that was her most effective weapon, helping her strike out nine Beavers and allow just four hits.
Other than that, along with the knowledge that it was her last start, nothing really changed for Humhej.
"I'm pretty much the same all the time no matter who we're playing," she said. "Take it one pitch at a time, trust what you're throwing, hit your location, just think through the whole process."
But it wouldn't have resulted in a win without Querry, one of the Golden Eagles' three seniors playing in their final home games. Querry, a catcher and third baseman, transferred from Lock Haven University two years ago and made an immediate impact in Crookston, smashing four home runs in her first 10 games in 2020 including a grand slam.
"Just an incredible hard worker," Owen said of Querry. "Sets the tone in the weight room. You gotta tell her to back it off sometimes, which is a great problem to have. Just goes real hard and you can see that pay off."
Querry described her mindset going into Sunday simply: "ball out." Her approach at the plate? She just wanted to swing at the first pitch that looked good to her.
In the second game of the afternoon, it paid off once more. Minot State took a 7-0 lead going into the fifth inning before the Golden Eagles loaded the bases and Querry stepped into the batter's box. The first pitch that looked good to her was a 1-0 pitch over the plate, and she sent it deep over the centerfield wall.
The Golden Eagles' rally continued from there. Gabriella Blomdahl hit a double to bring home two more runs and later scored on a wild pitch to tie the game. With the seven-run frame having given UMC new life, Humhej came into the game in relief in the sixth inning, looking to power the Golden Eagles through to the end.
This time, the seven innings she had already thrown and extensive warmups showed their toll. Lenora Watson hit a two-run homer off of Humhej in the seventh inning, and Trinity Valentine shut down the UMC bats to close the game out, 9-7 in favor of Minot State.
"I didn't quite pull through the way I wanted to but I threw as much as I could," Humhej said. "I just wanted to leave it all out there for them because they did the same thing for me."
After a 2-10 start to the season, the Golden Eagles rebounded somewhat in NSIC play. They finished 6-22, their best conference record in over a decade, and 10-32 overall. They capped off their season with a hard-fought split against a Beaver team bound for the NSIC Tournament.
To Owen, their seven-run fifth inning exemplified this steady progress. When it counted, Minnesota Crookston didn't hold back.
"We started a little rough, but to come this far to where we're at now, that's encouraging," Owen said. "We've made some good steps and we'll keep making forward steps as long as we just keep doing the right things."
Added Humhej: "We battled through, we pushed and we made some really big plays today. I think ultimately we have a lot that we can be proud of."
UP NEXT: Sunday's doubleheader ended UMC's season and the careers of Humhej and Querry, as well as Darian Pancirov, who pitched and played at the corner infield spots for the Golden Eagles.
Pancirov was recruited under Don Stopa, UMC's former head coach, and stayed on board when Owen was hired before the 2019 season. She saw her role change a number of times with the Golden Eagles: she was primarily a hitter in 2019 and 2020, but came on as a pitcher towards the end of this season and finished with a 4.08 ERA in 12 innings.
"You see that adaptiveness for her to come in and get some really good hitters out," Owen said of Pancirov, who pitched two innings in the second game Sunday. "I'm proud on her for ending on that note and pitching strong in the circle for us."
MINNESOTA CROOKSTON 4, MINOT STATE 1
Minot State 0-0-0-1-0-0-0—1-4-1
Minnesota Crookston 0-1-0-3-0-0-X—4-8-2
- WP: Katie Humhej (7.0 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 7 K)
- LP: Trinity Valentine (5.0 IP, 7 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 3 BB, 3 K)
MINOT STATE 9, MINNESOTA CROOKSTON 7
Minot State 2-0-3-2-0-0-2—9-12-3
Minnesota Crookston 0-0-0-0-7-0-0—7-13-4
- WP: Trinity Valentine (2.2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 5 K)
- LP: Katie Humhej (1.1 IP, 2 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 2 K)
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