It has been a good homestand for the Lincoln Blue Tigers.
The stretch of six games in five days started with a doubleheader split against Rogers State, at the time ranked No. 21 in NCAA Division II. It ended Tuesday with a split against the Missouri S&T Miners at LU Softball Field, with the Blue Tigers taking the opener 6-4 and the Miners answering with a 5-2 victory in Game 2.
"Part of building a culture and a program is you have to show up every single day, every single game," Lincoln coach Christine Core said. "We're still on the climb for that."
Friday's 2-1 win in eight innings against Rogers State was Lincoln's first win against a nationally ranked opponent since March 25, 2016, when the Blue Tigers upset No. 16 Northwest Missouri 3-2.
"It took a lot out of us emotionally to win that," Core said of Friday's win. "We didn't bounce back as sharp as we could have been on Saturday, so I was happy to see them come out and play well in Game 1 today.
"I told them if they can be as emotionally and mentally invested as they were against a nationally ranked team, then they're going to be hard to beat."
Missouri S&T took a 2-0 lead in the top of the second inning in Game 1, but the Blue Tigers answered with four runs in the bottom half of the inning and never trailed again.
Leadoff hitter Leslie Callahan gave the Blue Tigers the lead for good with a two-run triple just out of the reach of the right fielder. Callahan then scored on a single by Jordan Lawson to extend Lincoln's lead to 4-2.
Both Lincoln hits came with two outs.
"They did a really good job in the first game of adjusting pitch to pitch and at-bat to at-bat," Core said.
In her next plate appearance in the fourth, Callahan put down a successful squeeze bunt for an infield hit, scoring Alex Miller. Making the bunt more significant was it came on a two-strike count.
"It just hit me," Core said. "Leslie has really good hand-eye coordination, and so I figured if we just told her she had to get it down, she would get it down. It turned out to be a huge play for us."
Callahan reached base in five of her eight plate appearances in the doubleheader.
"She's coming up in some big situations and producing," Core said.
Missouri S&T closed the gap to 5-4 in the top of the fifth, when No. 9 hitter Kate Baxter (New Bloomfield High School) belted a two-run home run to right field, the first homer of her career.
Lincoln answered with an insurance run in the bottom half on an RBI single from Alex Miller.
"She wasn't hitting where she wanted to for most of the season, so it's good to see her cash it in here later in the year," Core said of Miller, who went 2-for-3 and reached base all three times in the opener.
Tressa Hughes was the winning pitcher for Lincoln, giving up four runs on four hits in five innings. Maddie Welker finished the game with two scoreless innings to earn the save.
"Maddie is really quite the sponge," Core said. "She has been thrown into a role this year that she definitely was not expecting, to be a big factor in the pitching staff. And she has really had to step up big."
Baxter took the loss in the circle for Missouri S&T.
Lincoln finished with just two hits in Game 2. One was a two-run double by Jordan Hollon in the third inning that tied the score at 2.
"She has some of the best at-bats on the team, just taking good pitches that lead to mistakes for the other team," Core said. "She's really learning how to capitalize on those."
The other Blue Tiger hit was a two-out single in the first inning by Jacqueline Marquez, as the ball nicked off the first baseman's glove on a line drive.
Missouri S&T pitcher Charlye Rowland pitched 1 innings of relief in Game 1, then finished with two walks and six strikeouts in five innings to earn the win in Game 2.
"For some reason, we just could not adjust on her," Core said. "You have to tip your cap to her, because we did not get it done."
Bryn Wooldridge, who was an all-state pitcher and helped Salisbury to a Class 1 state championship in 2019, pitched two scoreless innings for the save. She also had a sacrifice fly and an RBI double at the plate for Missouri S&T (5-19).
Miller went the distance for the Blue Tigers, walking two and striking out two in seven innings. It's just the fifth complete game this season for the Lincoln pitching staff.
"It's time for us to take that next step," Core said. "We've got kids that can go later and later (in the game)."
Lincoln (5-22-1) returns to MIAA play Saturday with a doubleheader at Emporia State. First pitch is scheduled for noon.