Fourth-seeded Rollins pushed top-seed and No. 1 Valdosta State to the brink before falling to the Blazers in Monday's NCAA DII Softball South Regional final. Rollins won game one 3-0 to force a winner-take-all second game, which Valdosta took 1-0. The Blazers will host sixth-seeded Florida Southern in a Super Regional May 11-12.
Before play was suspended Sunday afternoon, the Tars put pressure on Blazers starter Alanna Hadley early, started by a bloop single down the right field line in the first by Lawna Hunter. Monica Meadows then followed with a line drive single through the left side that advanced Hunter to second.
After Krista Rodden went down on strikes, Hadley awarded Hope Bitzer the base on balls to load the bases for senior Meredith Foster. Foster put a charge in one deep down the line in left but left fielder Morgan Johnson tracked it down in foul territory to retire Foster and end the threat.
Play would then be suspended in the top half of the third due to lightning and heavy rain.
When play resumed Monday, Tars pitcher Bitzer picked up where she left off, sitting Angela O’Conner down looking. Then, after surrending a single to Clare Wamsley, got April Hutchens swinging and Courtney Albritton to fly out weakly to center to end the inning.
The Tars next scoring chance came in the bottom of the fourth. Bitzer helped her own cause leading off the inning with a double off the base of the wall in right. After a wild pitch allowed Bitzer to move to third, Hadley recorded back to back strikeouts to bring up Hilary Brown with two outs and a runner on third.
Down in the count 0-1, Brown ripped a line drive up the middle that appeared to be heading into center field before Blazer shortstop Marti Littlefield laid out to make the run saving play to end the inning.
As the Tars continued to hit Hadley hard, the opposite was true for the Blazers through five innings. Bitzer cruised through the first 15 outs of the game, allowing just one hit while striking out seven.
Rollins would again put pressure on the Blazer defense in the bottom of the fifth. After Hunter reached on a hit by pitch with two outs, Meadows ripped her third hit of the game, a double down the left field line that scored Hunter all the way from first to take the 1-0 lead.
But Rollins wasn’t done yet in the fifth. With Meadows on second, Rodden drove an 0-2 pitch from Hadley over the fence in center to push the lead to 3-0. It was Rodden’s sixth home run of the year. The score would stand for the next two innings.
Bitzer earned the win in dominating fashion, picking up the shutout while giving up just two hits and striking out 10.
In the winner-take-all second game, Valdosta scored the only run it would need to advance in the third inning. Angela O’Connor began the Blazer half of the inning by drawing a walk. She was replaced by pinch runner April Collins. Collins would advance to second on an April Hutchens single and then to third when Courtney Albritton reached on a fielder’s choice. Morgan Johnson singled through the left side in the next VSU at-bat to score Collins for what proved to be the game-winner.
In the final game of her career, Bitzer worked six innings, allowing one earned run on four hits and a walk. She struck out seven.
MAY 6 RECAP
Florida Southern took care of its business with one win on Sunday, downing West Alabama 3-1 to advance to next weekend's NCAA Super Regional. The Mocs will face the winner of the Rollins/Valdosta State game. After waiting all afternoon and late into the evening for a break in the weather, the game was suspended and will begin at 10:30 a.m. Monday.
In the Tampa half of the regional bracket, with Christine Clark pitching every inning, the sixth-seeded Moccasins moved forward with a 3-0 record that included two wins over seventh-seeded West Alabama following their 1-0 win over Barry in the opener. There can be no doubt the weekend sweep was the crowning achievement of Clark’s career – at least so far. The senior gave up six hits to West Alabama on Sunday, struck out four and walked no one. After the Tigers tied the score in the top of the fourth inning, Clark also came through at the plate with RBI singles in the fourth and sixth innings to give the Mocs their final two runs.
Randi Grimes had two hits on Sunday and scored the Mocs’ first two runs. She finished the three games 4-for-9, and drove in the go-ahead run in the first two wins. Brittany Martin also had two hits Sunday, drove in one run, had a sacrifice bunt to set up another, and a stolen base that gave Clark her final RBI opportunity. The senior third baseman also had two RBI in the 4-1 win over West Alabama on Saturday.
Sunday, Grimes helped the Mocs score their first two runs with singles in the first and fourth innings. In the bottom of the first, the senior first baseman singled with two out and came home when Martin doubled into left center. After the Tigers tied the game at one in the top of the fourth, Grimes came up again in the bottom of the inning and delivered another single. This time, Martin bunted her into scoring position and a 2-out error opened the door for Clark. The Moccasin pitcher singled into left center bringing in Grimes with the go-ahead run.
The Mocs added an insurance run in the bottom of the sixth after Martin singled and stole second. Clark’s 2-out RBI single then made the score 3-1.
Clark got the first two hitters in the top of the seventh, but West Alabama got renewed life when Taylor Miller struck out and reached first safely as the ball went to the back stop. A rare wild pitch by Clark moved her to second, but Dayna Hunn ended the game with a running catch in right center against Tamara Vickers.
After striking out 14 West Alabama hitters on Saturday, Clark had to battle through every inning Sunday. Only once did she set down the Tigers in order, but only once did they have more than one base runner in those innings. That one time came in the top of the fourth when the Tigers used a leadoff single by Morgan Morrison, a sacrifice bunt by Brooklyn Phillips and 2-out single by Kelsey Cooper to score their only run.
Cooper was a thorn in the side of Florida Southern, picking up two hits Sunday and going 5-for-6 against the Moccasins over the weekend.
Clark also made two big plays with her glove, snatching line drives out of the air in the second and seventh innings. She also got a sharp play from Christie Bailey in the fifth when the Moccasin shortstop went toward the middle of the infield to field a grounder hit by Stephanie Shoup, and get the final out with a runner rounding the bag at third.
While the Tigers had six hits, Florida Southern had eight hits, with Grimes, Martin and Clark all picking up two. Bailey and Sam Gale each had one apiece. Grimes and Gale hit safely in all three games of the tournament.
MAY 5 RECAP
Rollins and Florida Southern posted wins on Saturday to advance to the final of their respective halves of the NCAA Division II South Region Softball Championship. Tampa and Barry were eliminated with losses on Saturday.
Sixth-seeded Florida Southern wasted no time in punching its ticket to the final, taking down seventh-seeded West Alabama 4-1 to advance in the Tampa half of the bracket.
FSC did all of its scoring in the top of the fifth inning, when the Moccasins had four of their eight hits in the game. Just as she did in Friday’s 1-0 win over Barry, Sam Gale started the uprising with a one-out single. Karlyn Scott was hit by a pitch to put runners at first and second before Steph Graziani flied out to left for the second out. That brought Randi Grimes to the plate, who lifted a fly ball into shallow left that Tamara Vickers made a lunging attempt to catch. She came up short though, the ball bounced past her for a double, and Gale scored to give the Mocs a 1-0 lead.
With runners at second and third, Brittany Martin then singled up the middle to drive in two more runs, and Dayna Hunn tripled down the line in right field to make the score 4-0. It was Hunn’s second extra-base hit of the game following a double in the fourth inning.
Pitcher Christine Clark got through the third and fourth innings without allowing a base runner, but after the Mocs took their 4-0 lead in the top of the fifth, the Tigers got on the scoreboard in the bottom of the fifth.
Clark scattered six hits and struck out 14 batters in picking up the win.
In Valdosta, Rollins scored six runs in the first two innings, two of them coming on Lawna Hunter's sixth home run of the season, to go on to beat Miles 6-2 to keep its title hopes alive.
After Hunter's two-run homer in the first, Monica Meadows doubled. She scored on a sacrifice fly from Hope Bitzer for the early 3-0 lead.
In the second inning, Hannah Lovestrand singled through the left side, followed by a single from Aimee Halpin. Lovestrand scored on a single up the middle from Meadows, and Halpin came around on an errant throw from the Miles centerfielder. Meadows scored next on a single from Krista Rodden.
Those six runs would be all Rollins needed to advance in the tournament, but Miles put up a fight with two unearned runs in the fifth.
The win put Rollins in another elimination game versus Alabama-Huntsville. The Tars used excellent defensive play and a few Alabama-Huntsville running errors, coupled with timely hitting from centerfielder Meadows, to pull out a 4-2 victory over the Chargers. The victory sends Rollins to Sunday's regional final.
The Tars were the first to score with two runs in the second. Meredith Foster singled with two outs, then outran UAH shortstop Kathryn Whitlock to second base on a fielder's choice by Veronica Alred. With two runners on, Hilary Brown singled down the right line to plate Foster. Alred came home on an Halpin single.
Alabama-Huntsville tied the game in the fourth inning on a Mallory McNeal double. She plated Mary Kelley and Sam Deep, pinch running for Cortney McNett after her double.
With the game tied, Rollins added a run in the fifth. Lovestrand singled and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt from Halpin. After Hunter walked, Meadows knocked Lovestrand in for the 3-2 lead.
The Chargers had a chance to tie in the fifth with two runners on, but Whitlock lined out to Rollins second baseman Rodden, who teamed up with Lovestrand and Halpin to turn a triple play.
Rollins added an insurance run in the seventh when Meadows knocked her 10th home run of the year down the left line. The hit broke the Rollins career record for hits.
After notching the go-ahead RBI and the record breaking home run, Meadows then robbed Kellie Johnson of a home run in centerfield to secure the win for Rollins.
The Tars will meet Valdosta State at 1 p.m. Sunday. Rollins will have to beat VSU twice to advance while the Blazers only need one win.
Back in Tampa, the second-seeded Spartans started their day by staying alive with a 2-0 win over SSC foe and third-seeded Barry, but then dropped a 5-3 elimination game to No. 7 West Alabama.
The story of the first game for the Spartans was Kayla Cox’s no-hitter. The sophomore became the first player to throw a postseason no-hitter for the Spartans. She also handed Barry its first no-hitter since the 2001 season.
Cox extended her school record consecutive unearned streak to 81.1 innings as she hurled 7.0 shutout frames. She finished with 15 strikeouts against the No. 13 team in the nation. The victory moved her record to 16-1 on the season.
A pair of third-inning runs was all Cox needed, as seniors Susan Jallo and Becky Vyzas each drove in the runs. Vyzas finished with two hits, and both players had a double apiece.
Tampa’s win in the elimination game allowed them to meet West Alabama in the third game of the day at Naimoli Family Field.
In the evening game, Tampa struck first when Jallo singled home Brie Walton in the second inning to put the Spartans up 1-0. West Alabama would respond with a two-out rally in the top of the third, taking a 3-1 lead.
With two outs in the bottom of the fifth, Vyzas reached on a two-base error as UWA dropped a pop fly. Pinch runner Jenna Halper would later score on a triple by Meagan Burke. The freshman would also score on the play as UWA had another error, knotting the score at 3-3.
The Tigers would respond with two runs of their own in the top of the sixth, regaining the lead at 5-3 they would never relinquish.
The result sends West Alabama to the Tampa Regional final, where it will meet Florida Southern at 1 p.m. The Tigers would have to beat FSC twice to advance to the Super Regional next weekend.
MAY 4 RECAP
Sixth-seeded Florida Southern downed third-seeded Barry 1-0 for the SSC's only win in the opening day of action in the NCAA Division II South Region Softball Championship. In the other game hosted at Tampa, the No. 2 Spartans fell to No. 7 West Alabama 3-1. In Valdosta, No. 4 Rollins dropped a 3-2 decision to No. 5 Alabama-Huntsville.
In the Barry/Florida Southern contest, the Bucs had chances early against Mocs’ starter Christine Clark but failed to capitalize. Barry had two base-runners in each of the first two innings, but failed to score.
The Mocs got the only run they would need in the third inning, loading the bases with one out on three straight singles by Sam Gale, Karlyn Scott and Steff Graziani. Randi Grimes drew a walk off Barry starter Brianna Smith to force in Gale with the run.
Clark scattered five hits and hit one batter to toss her 12th shutout of the season. She struck out four. Smith allowed just one other hit outside the third inning, a lead-off single by Scott in the fifth inning, but walked three in five innings of work. Alexis Yohe set down six of the seven batters she faced to close out the game.
In the night cap in Tampa, West Alabama struck for a pair of first inning runs and later extended its lead over the host Spartans to 3-0 with another in the sixth.
The Spartans had their chances in the bottom of the sixth, with a two-out rally that trimmed the Tiger lead to 3-1. Susan Jallo scored the lone UT run, as she stretched a triple into a score thanks to heady base running. Tampa would proceed to load the bases, but a liner that was snared by UWA's second baseman put an end to Tampa's hopes.
In the Valdosta half of the bracket, Rollins found itself in a quick 1-0 hole in the first after the Chargers scored courtesy of an RBI single by Cortney McNett. UAH would add one in third and another in the fourth, thanks to a solo shot by Abby MacKay, to extend the lead to 3-0.
Rollins would finally crack the scoreboard in the bottom of the fifth. The Tars loaded the bases with two outs, bringing up senior Lawna Hunter for the first real scoring chance of the afternoon for Rollins.
Chargers pitcher Whitney Gilbert looked to have pitched herself out of the jam, getting Hunter to send a ground ball towards second. But Kellie Johnson couldn't handle it cleanly and then sailed her throw past first, allowing two runs to come around to score to bring the Tars back within one, 3-2.
Rollins would threaten in the sixth on a leadoff double by senior Krista Rodden, and again in the seventh with a two-out double by junior Aimee Halpin, but couldn't come up with the big hit they needed, dropping the first round contest, 3-2.
A schedule for each regional site appears below.
South Region Softball Championship - Hosted by the Univ. of Tampa | Host Site
Friday, May 4
Game 1: No. 6 Florida Southern 1, No. 3 Barry 0
Game 2: No. 7 West Alabama 3, No. 2 Tampa 1
Saturday, May 5
Game 3: No. 6 Florida Southern 4, No. 7 West Alabama 1
Game 4: No. 2 Tampa 2, No. 3 Barry 0
Game 5: No. 7 West Alabama 5, No. 2 Tampa 3
Sunday, May 6
Game 6: No. 6 Florida Southern 3, No. 7 West Alabama 1
South Region Softball Championship - Hosted by Valdosta State Univ. | Host Site
Friday, May 4
Game 1: No. 5 Alabama-Huntsville 3, No. 4 Rollins 2
Game 1: No. 1 Valdosta State 5, No. 8 Miles 2
Saturday, May 5
Game 3: No. 1 Valdosta State 9, No. 5 Alabama-Huntsville 4
Game 4: No. 4 Rollins 6, No. 8 Miles 2
Game 5: No. 4 Rollins 4, No. 5 Alabama-Huntsville 2
Monday, May 7
Game 6: No. 4 Rollins 3, No. 1 Valdosta State 0
Game 7: No. 1 Valdosta State 1, No. 4 Rollins 0