MURRAY —It is an unfortunate fact of sports; injuries happen.
Many times, though, it is the timing of these ailments that determines the impact on a team. So when Murray State senior outfielder Jensen Striegel sustained a foot injury about a month from the end of the Racers’ softball season, there were ripples. Not only was she the starting center fielder, she also was a solid offensive contributor. It was questionable as to whether she would see the field again this season, one that was headed toward being very memorable.
Well, not only did she return, she made a huge difference. Still a bit gimpy, Striegel came back in time for last week’s Ohio Valley Conference Tournament in Oxford, Alabama, and supplied several huge plays as the Racers claimed their first-ever OVC Tournament title and NCAA Tournament berth.
“I’m so happy (her season) didn’t end (while still on the bench). I didn’t want it to end on that note,” said Striegel, who will take her place on the home field of two-time national champion Alabama later today as the No. 3-seeded Racers face PAC-12 power and No. 2 seed Stanford at Rhoads Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. “That’s something we’ve been wanting to feel for five years now (along with fellow fifth-year players Sierra Gilmore and Logan Braundmeier) and it’s something everybody has talked about as soon as we got here. It was the moment we’ve been waiting for.
“Hopefully, we can feel another like it.”
Striegel is a big reason this moment is even happening. Along with batting .312 at the plate, she supplied a couple of very memorable defensive plays.
One was a diving catch on a sinking fly ball in the fourth inning of the Racers’ 1-0 win over Belmont last Friday in their second game of the tournament.
The other achieved a dream Striegel said she has had since arriving at Murray State. It came in the ninth inning last Thursday of the Racers’ 3-1 win in 12 innings over Southeast Missouri with the game still scoreless.
She robbed a player of a home run.
“It was just reading the ball and trying to get to the wall. That’s all,” she said, obviously downplaying the importance of that play. Had that long fly ball, struck by SEMO power hitter Aubrie Shore, landed on the other side of the left-center-field wall at Choccolocco Park, it would have been a three-run homer as the Redhawks had two runners on base. It also would have put the Racers in a very tough position from which to recover. Instead, it resulted in only one run with Shore getting what was still a very important RBI, but only one, not three.
“I knew it was going to be deep and it was high enough that I could get back to the fence, but I didn’t know exactly where it was going to go. I just went for it,” she said of the moment she leaped upward with her left hand extended above the wall. “When it hit my glove, I was like, ‘Holy cow! Did I just do that?’ Then, I was worried about the runner at third so I tried to get rid of (the ball) as fast as possible.”
There was no way to throw out the runner at third, so the Racers faced a 1-0 deficit heading into the bottom half of the inning. And, as it would play out, Striegel’s catch was a game saver, because the Racers only scored one run in the ninth, a leadoff solo homer from one of her closest friends on the team, second baseman Lindsey Carroll.
Instead, Carroll’s shot tied it. Three innings later, Striegel’s bunt single preceded third baseman Gracie Osbron’s two-run walk-off bomb to end a game that tied for the longest in OVC Tournament history.
“It wasn’t really downer (that her catch did not stop a run) because I didn’t have any doubts. We can hit the ball really well,” she said. “Oh my gosh! It was so awesome when Lindsey did that.
“But as far as I go, I’m just trying to make outs for our pitchers and I don’t care if it’s on the ugliest play or the best play. I’m just getting outs for them.”