Above photo provided by the UMHB Athletics Department
CLINTON, Miss.- It felt as if the third inning would never end.
As eighth-ranked ETBU brought out the cannons, began to swing for the fences and scored 11 runs in the third inning of the ASC Championship game, UMHB’s strength seemed to slowly slip away.
On Saturday afternoon, the Cru, who had defeated Hardin-Simmons earlier in the day to clinch a spot in the conference championship game, were run-ruled by ETBU, 13-3.
The Tigers’ victory earned ETBU its 10th ASC title, and also an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament. UMHB, meanwhile, will await its fate until May 17, when the NCAA announces its at-large bids. The field was cut from 62 to 47 teams this season, allowing for just five at-large bids.
Facing ETBU for the second straight day, UMHB struggled to hold the Tigers’ bats at bay. The No. 2 seed out of the East Division, ETBU scored two runs in the first inning, both coming on sacrifice flies to center fielder Lexi Harris.
The Crusaders did counter in the top of the second, scoring their first run of the contest as Bailey Stoker lined a single to center field that scored second baseman Elissa Elliott from second with one out.
Trailing 2-1 entering the third inning, UMHB starter Bayleigh Grogan headed to the circle, ready to pitch her 12th inning of work in the span of 30 hours.
The Tigers held nothing back against a fatigued Grogan, knocking two hits into the outfield and extending the lead to 3-1 before senior Jules Martinez was called from the bullpen. Martinez fared no better, allowing five earned runs in six batters faced, while generating just one out.
With two outs, Kami Flores was called upon to get the Cru out of the inning, but failed to get the job done, facing four batters and surrendering four more runs. With ETBU well ahead by a score of 12-1, Camryn Rucker stepped into the circle, and was the only Crusader to allow zero runs on the day.
Rucker gave up a walk and two singles, but tallied the final out of the frame. On a hard-hit line drive to left field from Daniella Solis with the bases loaded, left fielder Bailey Eggleston fielded the ball nicely and fired it to home plate, nailing the runner from third in a bang-bang play that the umpire ruled was an out.
The momentum generated from that play gave UMHB a slight boost at the plate in the fourth, as the Cru tacked on two runs to cut the deficit to 13-3. Shortstop Milly Cesare scored on a single off the bat of Eggleston with two outs in the fifth, but that was the last of the Cru’s scoring in Clinton.
Elliott and Eggleston each had a 2-for-3 performance at the plate, with Elliott being the only Crusader to hit safely in all three of UMHB’s ASC Tournament games.
Grogan picked up her second loss of the tournament, both coming to ETBU, as she allowed three earned runs in 2.1 innings of work.
Led by first-year head coach Melissa Mojica, the Cru played especially well against top-tier competition in Clinton. It cannot be forgotten that UMHB fell to ETBU on Friday by a score of 2-0 in a tight game from start to finish, and Saturday’s loss was primarily due to the disastrous third inning.
All the Cru can do now is wait. And hope for a chance to keep their season alive. The decision will rest with the NCAA selection committee.