Four-Run Sixth Inning Breaks Open Close Game - Trojans Fall To Columbus State 8-2 In NCAA II Southeast Regional First Round
Beth Overman's fourth-inning leadoff home run got No. 5 seed Mount Olive on the scoreboard, but a four-run sixth inning broke open a close game as the Trojans fell to fourth-seeded and nationally 16th-ranked Columbus State 8-2 in the opening game of the Southeast Regional of the 2013 NCAA Division II Softball Championship Friday at Savannah, Ga. The game was the Trojans' first ever in the NCAA II Softball Championship.
The Trojans will play an elimination game Saturday at 1:30 p.m. against No. 8 seed Wingate, which fell to top-seeded and tournament host Armstrong 2-1 Friday. Mount Olive swept a doubleheader at Wingate during the regular season.
Mount Olive (34-14) was held hitless until Overman drilled a 1-2 pitch over the fence in straightaway centerfield to pull the Trojans within 2-1. The home run was Overman's team-leading ninth of the season and the Trojans' 36th of the year, breaking the school record set in 2008.
"We were hoping that would spark another comeback win," said Overman, who has the Trojans' highest individual single-season home run total since 2008. Mount Olive posted three come-from-behind wins in the Conference Carolinas Tournament three weeks ago.
Columbus State (40-16) answered in the bottom of the fourth on Kori Waugh's two-out solo home run to extend the lead to 3-1. Waugh gave the Cougars a 2-0 lead in the second with a two-run double.
Trojan starting pitcher Carly White (13-5) got out of a bases loaded jam in the first inning, but came out of the game after issuing back-to-back one-out walks in the bottom of the second. Conference Carolinas Tournament Most Valuable Player Lauren Smith took over and after allowing Waugh's double, retired seven of the next eight batters before Waugh struck again.
Trojan head coach Jaime Kylis-Higginbotham didn't feel that the team was experiencing any pre-game jitters.
"I think we came in with the right mindset," said Kylis-Higginbotham, who was named Conference Carolinas Softball Coach of the Year for the second straight year. "The girls were not in awe or starstruck by being in an NCAA Tournament."
"We went into this as just another game, as another step to where we want to be," said Overman.
Mount Olive made it a one-run game again in the top of the fifth without benefit of a hit as Savannah Becker drew a one-out walk. The Trojans put runners on the corners when Jennifer Jones' ground ball to the right side was misplayed and Becker scored on Erin Brogan's rbi-groundout to short to pull Mount Olive within 3-2.
That would be as close as Mount Olive would get as Columbus State used the long ball again in the bottom of the fifth. Kristen Carr homered to right-center with one out to give the Cougars a two-run lead again at 4-2.
The Cougars put runners on first and second with one out in the bottom of the sixth and the Trojans pitched around Waugh to load the bases. The strategy appeared to pay off as Smith got a strikeout after an appeal to the third base umpire for the second out of the inning. But Casey Googe cleared the bases with an opposite-field double to the right-center field fence to extend Columbus State's lead to 7-2. The Cougars capped the scoring on Carr's rbi-single down the right field line.
Katie Moore had Mount Olive's only other hit off of Columbus State pitcher Mollie Russell, a one-out single to left in the sixth inning. Russell (23-8), who recorded three of her four strikeouts in the first three innings, entered the game ranked fifth in the nation with a 0.95 earned run average.
"We always had the mentality that we could come back and we did a good job of putting the ball in play," said Kylis-Higginbotham. "But she (Mollie Russell) is a very good pitcher and she pitched a good game."
"We were on the right track throughout the game," said Overman. "We just couldn't make it happen."
Smith finished with five strikeouts in 4 1/3 innings of relief. Christie Wright got the final out of the sixth inning.
If Mount Olive wins its first elimination game, the Trojans play again Saturday at 4 p.m. Mount Olive would then have to win twice Sunday to capture the regional title and advance to next weekend's Super Regional. The Trojans won five consecutive elimination games to win this year's Conference Carolinas Tournament.
Prior to leaving for Savannah, Wright commented in a television interview about how Mount Olive won the conference tournament. Her words may ring true again this weekend.
"We like to do things the hard way," said Wright.