In the history of NCAA Division II softball, no pitcher had ever thrown consecutive perfect games until Fort Hays State’s Maddie Holub did it on April 6 against Northwest Missouri and April 12 against Missouri Southern.
It was made even sweeter by the fact that Holub was able to pitch both games in Hays, her hometown, and in front of all her friends and family.
And it was in this historical context that Holub’s older brother, Zach, was able to bring things home for his younger sister, who is putting together the greatest season in school history.
“He told me he thought, after this, that I was probably our parents’ favorite,” Maddie said, laughing.
Holub, a senior, has been the key for the Tigers’ surge into the NCAA Division II Top 25 and the MIAA title hunt under second-year coach Erin Kinberger. And not just because of the perfect games.
Fort Hays State (35-7, 15-3 MIAA), ranked No. 18, is in second place in the MIAA and plays a doubleheader at league leader Central Missouri (33-7, 17-1) on Friday.
The Tigers are coming off back-to-back doubleheaders where they split games — against Missouri Southern and Pittsburg State.
“Everybody knows she’s a phenomenal pitcher,” Kinberger said. “But I’ll take Maddie every day because of her attitude and leadership … she has the kind of personality that’s contagious, that people are drawn to.”
Holub doesn’t just dominate on the mound, where she’s 20-1 with a 0.71 ERA and 243 strikeouts in 148 1/3 innings. She also leads the Tigers in batting average (.441), home runs (15), RBIs (42), hits (56) and runs (45).
“She doesn’t just pitch for us,” Kinberger said. “When she’s not on the mound, she’s in the outfield.”
Holub was an All-MIAA pitcher last season, going 19-9 with a 1.62 ERA and 306 strikeouts in 195 innings. She also led Fort Hays in batting average, home runs and hits.
“I wouldn’t have gone to a college that just wanted me to focus on pitching,” Holub said. “It’s something I work really, really hard on.”
Kinberger, who was an all-region catcher at Saint Leo (Fla.) University, spent three seasons as an assistant coach at Fort Hays under Julie LeMaire and helped recruit Holub, including catching for her when she was a senior in high school and working out for LeMaire.
“As soon as I caught her the first time I said ‘We can’t let her get out of Hays,’ ” Kinberger said. “I thought, right away, that she could be the best pitcher in the MIAA.”
In Holub’s first perfect game, a 1-0 win over Northwest Missouri, Kinberger realized what was going on in the fifth inning, but kept with one of sports’ oldest traditions and didn’t say a word to anyone.
“We’d all watched that old Kevin Costner movie (For Love of the Game) a few weeks ago on the bus, where he’s the pitcher throwing the perfect game and we all said how awesome it would be to be a part of something like that,” Kinberger said. “So as it was happening, I didn’t know who knew it was going on besides me and (Fort Hays sports information director Ryan Prickett), but when that last pitch went through it was pretty crazy … all the kids knew it was going on.
“Once it was over, the defense was just coming to her and saying ‘I would’ve made any play for you at that point, we were all ready.’ It was special.”
Holub struck out 17 against Northwest Missouri and her double in the fourth inning brought home Courtney Dobson for the game’s only run.
In the second perfect game, a 5-0 win over Missouri Southern, Holub struck out 14 and hit a two-run home run.
“Throwing a perfect game was bound to happen because she has worked so hard,” said Callie Wright, who caught both games. “But that second one, you’re not even thinking something like that can happen … it doesn’t even occur to you.
“(Holub) came out in the seventh inning and was so composed, was so focused on striking people out while everyone else was getting kind of jittery that when that last out came through, it took my breath away.”