- Associated Press - Thursday, May 15, 2014

FARGO, N.D. (AP) - North Dakota State’s Krista Menke was told while growing up in Friend, Nebraska, that the town of 1,000 people wouldn’t field a girls’ softball team unless she agreed to pitch. She set out teaching herself how to throw, with a few tips from her dad and an online video.

“It was me, my dad and YouTube,” Menke said, laughing.

Menke would eventually lead her high school team to the Nebraska state tournament, where Bison coaches saw a raw pitcher with an unorthodox style and the potential to lead a program that had become dominant in the Summit League. That hunch paid off last week when Menke rallied to lead NDSU to its fifth NCAA tournament appearance in six years.

The Bison were on the verge of going out early when Menke was roughed up in a 15-8 loss to IUPUI in the first game. She came back to give up just seven runs in the final four games, including 20 strikeouts and just four walks in the two final games against Fort Wayne.

“I don’t think you feel desperate,” Menke said, asked about the opening loss in the double-elimination tournament. “You just feel motivated and wanting to prove yourself even more. You have to go out there with the mindset that you’re better than them.’”

Bison co-head coach Jamie Trachsel, who calls all the pitches from the dugout, said Menke had a rare episode in the conference tournament of getting caught up in her own mechanics. Her body language changed for the better after the opening-round setback, the coach said.

“You can tell by the look on her face and if her shoulders are back and if her chest is up a little bit,” Trachsel said. “You know then she is committed to what she is doing.”

Catcher Jenina Ortega knows the look.

“She looks like a lion,” Ortega said. “She stands real tall the mound. She looks fearless. She is fearless.”

Menke, who brings a 28-7 record into Friday’s regional opener in Minneapolis against Auburn, has 247 strikeouts and 83 walks this season in 2211/3 innings. Batters are hitting .193 against her. She has nine shutouts, three saves and a 2.08 earned run average.

“She will do whatever she needs to be successful. She’s a grinder. She’s a fighter,” Trachsel said. “She doesn’t want to be the person who lets her team down.”

The Bison (35-16) and Auburn (39-17-1) will be playing for the second time the season. The Tigers won 11-3 at the AU Plainsman Invitational in February, a game in which Menke was taken out in the second inning.

Ortega said Menke and the Bison have been good with second chances.

“If we play our best game, why can’t we win?” Ortega said. “That is exactly how we feel.”

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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