Photo by Luke Zayas/True To The Cru
CLEVELAND, Miss.-Held to just three hits, offense was hard to come by for the UMHB softball team on Saturday morning. And in an elimination game setting, that proved to be a hurdle, as Hardin-Simmons scored all four of its runs in the final three innings, en route to a 4-2 victory.
UMHB, the nation’s No. 9 team, has been eliminated from the ASC Tournament, finishing with an overall record of 32-11, and will await the NCAA Tournament selection show on Monday.
“I’m extremely proud of my team, and every player,” UMHB head coach Melissa Mojica said Saturday. “So much heart and dedication. I am thankful for each and every player on this team. Looking forward to Monday’s selection show and an opportunity at a regional.”
How it played out
In the bottom of the seventh, everything seemed to be trending in the right direction for the Cru, despite being down to their final out. The bases were loaded, with Elissa Elliott at the plate, and UMHB trailed 4-2. But Elliott never faced a single pitch. The game was over before the at-bat began. And with Elliott standing in the batter’s box, the last out was called, while HSU walked off the field ecstatic, likely knowing it had just dodged what could have easily turned into a walk-off win for the visitors from Belton.
The reason for the abrupt end was due to a technicality. Julia Crofut had been the previous batter, subbed in to hit for Lindsey Polleschultz. Only, she had not been officially re-entered into the game, making her an ineligible player. When she was hit by a pitch, it loaded the bases, but the umpiring crew quickly called her out after a brief discussion.
While that sudden end was hard to swallow, the contest was decided well before that final play. UMHB took a 1-0 lead on Izzy Gutierrez’s RBI double in the third inning, but it was one of just three hits for the Cru all afternoon. Instead, HSU’s bats caught fire over the final three innings, scoring once in both the fifth and sixth, before a two-run seventh gave the Cowgirls a 4-1 advantage.
Three straight singles with one out produced both run-scoring plays, and while a brilliant throw from UMHB center fielder Lexi Harris to catcher Blakely Niles kept a fifth run from crossing the plate, the three-run deficit proved lofty for UMHB entering the bottom of the inning.
Though one of the ASC’s top hitting teams all season, the Crusaders struggled in the four games they played against HSU during the schedule. In the ASC opener, the Cowgirls took the series, 2-1, holding UMHB to a total of four runs on the weekend. It was much of the same Saturday afternoon, with HSU’s Aubrianna Salazar limiting the damage in the circle, allowing just two hits in six innings.
Gutierrez was the only Crusader who managed a hit in the contest, recording all three, including the RBI single in the seventh that slightly closed the gap.
Bayleigh Grogan went 6.2 innings in the final pitching appearance of her ASC Tournament career, and though the loss dropped her season mark to 11-7, she has accumulated 44 victories over four seasons as one of UMHB’s most consistent starting pitchers.
The Crusaders will now wait to see if they will be awarded an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, which will be announced during Monday’s selection show. The most ideal situation would be for Belhaven to win the ASC Tournament, forcing the committee to decide between ETBU and UMHB for an at-large bid. There is also an outside possibility all three will be selected, considering the ASC is the only conference in America with three Top 10-ranked teams, though the selection committee does not take the Top 25 into consideration in its selections.