Above photo courtesy of the UMHB Athletics Department
CLEVELAND, Miss.- The UMHB softball team encountered rain, wind, and consecutive one-run games, but the Crusaders have lived to fight another day at the ASC Tournament. UMHB, the nation’s No. 9 team, won its opening round game over McMurry early Friday before dropping the following contest in walk-off fashion to No. 8 ETBU.
“Our team is playing well,” UMHB head coach Melissa Mojica said postgame Friday. “Our defense and pitching is sharp. We just need to execute with runners on base and string some hits together.”
How it played out: Game 1 vs McMurry
The tournament got off to an auspicious start, less than favorable for all involved as strong winds and rain moved into the area quickly Thursday afternoon. Both UMHB and McMurry forged ahead, but were only able to reach the bottom of the fourth before weather conditions forced a postponement of the game. Minutes later, with a large tarp covering the field, tournament officials called the contest off until Friday morning at 10 a.m., not the ideal situation for either team, with the score knotted at two apiece.
McMurry, having eliminated UT-Dallas by a score of 2-1 to earn a spot in the afternoon duel with the third-seeded Cru, took control in the first inning. UMHB starter Bayleigh Grogan made it through just three batters, and did not record an out, as three hits led to a pair of runs. Rachel Williams was promptly called upon, and pitched incredibly well with runners in scoring position, getting UMHB out of its early jam. She remained in the circle for the next six innings, allowing just four hits and a walk, though none scored.
UMHB countered McMurry’s 2-0 advantage on Blakely Niles’ RBI double in the second, as Tatum Stover and Bailey Eggleston scored on the play. After what turned out to be a 17-hour weather delay, the Crusaders came back on Friday morning for their first lead of the game, as Milly Cesare singled, stole second and then crossed the plate on a single from Izzy Guteirrez with two outs. From there, the Cru held on for a narrow 3-2 victory.
How it played out: Game 2 vs ETBU
It set up a showdown between UMHB and No. 2-seeded ETBU. Both top 10 teams, ETBU had won the regular season series in Marshall, 2-1, and the Tigers also emerged with the win on Friday afternoon. But it did not come easy. The contest was forced into extra innings tied at 1-1, before ETBU won it on a walk-off single by Delanie Loya in the ninth.
Pitching dominated the stat sheet as Williams returned to the mound for another 8.1 innings. The same pitcher who led UMHB to a 3-0 shutout of ETBU on April 2, the Lorena, Texas native was solid, allowing just six hits and a pair of walks. Ultimately, much of the credit for ETBU’s victory is on the shoulders of ace Hannah Kelly, who went a full nine innings for the Tigers, with six hits allowed and zero walks.
Six different players recorded a hit in the game for the Crusaders, with Lexi Harris tallying the lone RBI on a base hit that scored Lindsey Polleschultz from third base with two outs in the third inning.
UMHB faces elimination in an 11 a.m. duel with Hardin-Simmons tomorrow. The winner of that contest plays the loser of ETBU and Belhaven at 4 p.m. for a spot in the championship game.
As for the pitching situation, with Williams having thrown 11.1 innings total on Friday, plus four more Thursday, Mojica said she is leaning towards Grogan for the start against HSU, though nothing is set in stone. Emilee Wade and Grason Long are also options in the circle.
Said Mojica of her team’s overall approach to the tournament: “I am happy with how we are playing and the intensity in the field and in the dugout.”