Do You Believe In MORE Miracles - Trojans Win Conference Carolinas Softball Championship!
Click HERE for a clip of the final out.
Friday, Mount Olive was five runs down before even getting to swing the bat in the tournament. Saturday, the Trojans were having to fight their way out of the loser's bracket just two games into the tournament. Sunday, Mount Olive was down to its final strike of the season - for 10 consecutive pitches.
Monday, Mount Olive was celebrating a conference championship.
Back-to-back two-run hits by Kalie Smith and Tiffany Hawley highlighted a five-run fifth inning and tournament Most Valuable Player Lauren Smith retired all six batters she faced in relief as No. 2 seed Mount Olive won its fifth straight tournament game and captured the 2013 Conference Carolinas Softball Championship with a 5-3 victory over sixth-seeded North Greenville in the Championship Game Monday at Burlington, N.C. The championship is Mount Olive's first since 2000 and advances the Trojans to the NCAA Division II Softball Championship for the first time in school history.
Smith, who posted a 2-0 record with a save in the tournament, was among three Trojan pitchers named to the All-Tournament Team. Pitchers Madison Johnston and Carly White, along with left fielder Kelsey Akers, joined Smith on the All-Tournament Team.
"I'm so proud of these kids," said Trojan head coach Kylis-Higginbotham, who was named Conference Carolinas Softball Coach of the Year for the second straight year. "They played calm and confident no matter what the situation was."
Mount Olive (34-13) broke a scoreless tie in the bottom of the fifth as Jennifer Jones drew a leadoff walk and Danielle Mitchell followed with a bunt single. Pinch-runner Megan Ready scored the game's first run on Beth Overman's single up the middle. The Trojans loaded the bases when Katie Moore was hit by a pitch for the sixth time in the tournament.
One out later, Kalie Smith lined a single to left to drive in Mitchell and Overman. Hawley then doubled to left-center as Moore scored from third and Smith came all the way around from first to give Mount Olive a 5-0 lead. Hawley's two-run double would prove to be the game winner.
Johnston (8-3) started for Mount Olive and held North Greenville scoreless on three hits before running into trouble in the sixth. Johnston came out after North Greenville (20-20-1) put runners on second and third with nobody out on a single, a hit batsman and a wild pitch. White, who recorded a save in relief of Johnston Sunday against Coker, came in and issued a walk to load the bases. She got ahead in the count 1-2 on Courtney Campbell before Campbell lined a pitch into left for a two-run double to pull the Crusaders within 5-2.
Smith took over for White, still with nobody out, and got the first out on Kansas Wofford's sacrifice fly to left that cut Mount Olive's lead to two. Smith ended the threat with a groundout and a popout, both to Jones at short.
Facing the 2-3-4 batters in the top of the seventh, Smith got the first out on a pop out to second baseman Moore. Jones caught a popup in foul territory for the second out, putting Mount Olive one out away from the title.
Smith got a first-pitch strike looking and went ahead 0-2 on North Greenville's cleanup batter on a foul ball. Smith got the three-pitch strikeout swinging as the Trojans poured out of the dugout in celebration.
After an All-Conference season as a freshman in 2012, Smith had a 5-4 record during the regular season this year. Her performance in the tournament included a complete game 10-inning win against North Greenville Sunday in the first championship game and a complete game one-hitter Saturday against Queens, in which she retired 21 consecutive batters after allowing a bunt single on the first pitch of the ballgame.
"I just put the regular season behind me," said Smith, a sophomore from Clinton, N.C. "The tournament was a brand new season."
"I talked to our pitchers before the tournament and told them anything that happened during the regular season doesn't matter," said Kylis-Higginbotham.
While other teams primarily rode one arm in the tournament, Mount Olive was able to go with a three-pitcher rotation. Johnston was 3-1 in the tournament, while White was 1-0 with a save. Smith, Johnston and White posted a combined 1.75 earned run average in 56 innings in the tournament, and just a 1.14 ERA after allowing five runs in the top of the first in the Trojans' eight-inning 7-6 win over Erskine in the tournament opener.
"That was our game plan from the beginning, to go with the three pitchers and they knew it," said Kylis-Higginbotham. "We never strayed from our game plan, even when we were down."
Mount Olive posted a 6-1 record in the tournament, winning four consecutive elimination games after a second round loss to North Greenville Saturday.
Not lost on Kylis-Higginbotham is that her players would have been spending Monday in class instead of competing for a championship if not for freshman Savannah Becker's 13-pitch at bat with two outs in the bottom of the seventh and the Trojans trailing by a run in Sunday's 10-inning 3-2 win over North Greenville. Becker, who was 1-for-15 in the tournament prior to the at bat, delivered a game-tying rbi-single to send the game into extra innings and keep Mount Olive's season alive.
"Savannah Becker is a competitor," Kylis-Higginbotham said of Becker, an All-Conference Carolinas first team centerfielder. "She's persistent and she was not going to allow her team to go down that way."
Mount Olive, which is ranked No. 8 in the NCAA II Southeast Region, is one of three teams that clinched automatic berths in the Southeast Regional over the weekend. Columbus State (Peach Belt Conference) and Lenoir-Rhyne (South Atlantic Conference) also clinched bids.
The Southeast Regional is comprised of two four-team double-elimination tournaments May 9-12. The two winners advance to a best-of-three Super Regional May 17-18. The winner joins the seven other Super Regionals in the National Finals May 23-27 at Salem, Va.