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Thursday's Softball Championship Roundup
Courtesy: Southern Conference
Release: 05/11/2017
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Samford Eliminates Chattanooga in Thursday Finale

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. – Fourth-seeded Samford posted a 9-8 victory over No. 7 Chattanooga in Thursday's finale and eighth contest of the 2017 Southern Conference Softball Championship at Frost Stadium on the campus of The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

With the win, the Bulldogs improve to 22-35 on the season and advance to face the top-seeded UNCG Spartans in a must-win game on Friday. The contest was originally scheduled for 2:30 p.m., but with thunderstorms threatening the Chattanooga area, the game will commence 30 minutes after third-seeded ETSU and fifth-seeded Mercer duel for a spot in Saturday's championship final.

The Mocs conclude their to 2017 campaign with an overall record of 15-38.

Samford was led by SoCon First Team All-Conference selection Shelby Maze who tied the Samford's single-season hits record (86) tonight, which was set by current Bulldog assistant coach Megan Dowdy in 2015, with her second hit of the night. Maze went 2-for-4 at the plate and added a run, a walk and a stolen base. Samford starting pitcher Jessica Stone (10-6) recorded her 10th win of the season after allowing no walks and just two extra-base hits.

After a scoreless two innings, Samford plated three runs in the top of the third on three hits and were helped out by one Mocs error. A pair of RBI singles and a fielder's choice were the cause of the three runs while a double play ended Samford's threat with a 3-0 score.

The Mocs answered in the home half of the third when singles from Emma Sturdivant and J.J. Hamill allowed Amy Lewis to advance them to second and third with two outs. Hayleigh Weissenbach delivered a two-out, two-RBI single to right field, cutting the deficit to 3-2.

Samford would bring home two more runs in the fourth on a two-run homerun to extend their lead to 5-2. After holding the Mocs in the home half, the Bulldogs erupted for four runs to take a large 9-2 lead. Chattanooga would answer right back in the bottom half when Ashley Conner belted a two-out grand slam, cutting into Samford's lead at 9-6.

The Mocs would add another run in the bottom of the sixth on a Hamill RBI double to the right-center gap, inching closer at 9-7, and putting the tying runs on second and third with one out. A strikeout and hard line-out off the bat of Weissenbach ended the Chattanooga threat. Conner didn't allow the Mocs to go down quietly as she belted her second homerun of the game, a solo shot with one out in the seventh to pull within 9-8, but the offense couldn't push across a run in the final two outs and dropped its elimination game.

The Mocs, however, could get no closer as Samford held on for the victory.

The Chattanooga offense, after being limited to one hit in loss to ETSU, belted 12 hits, three of which went for extra bases. Conner went 3-for-4 with a pair of home runs and a career-high five RBI. Hamill added a 3-for-3 performance with a double and RBI. Sturdivant registered two singles in three trips to plate while Weissenbach, Walker and Katy Richardson all went 1-for-4 with singles. Amy Lewis added a single and went 1-for-3.


Top-Seeded Spartans Edge Western Carolina, 6-5

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. – The top-seeded UNCG Spartans registered a 6-5 victory over sixth-seeded Western Carolina in Thursday's fourth contest and seventh of the 2017 Southern Conference Softball Championship at Frost Stadium on the campus of The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

With the win, the Spartans improve to 29-23 on the season and advance to face the winner of Thursday's must-win finale between No. 4 Samford and No. 7 Chattanooga tomorrow. Friday's contest was originally scheduled for 2:30 p.m., but with thunderstorms threatening the Chattanooga area, the game will commence 30 minutes after third-seeded ETSU and fifth-seeded Mercer duel for a spot in Saturday's championship final.

The Catamounts conclude their to 2017 campaign with an overall record of 18-30.

UNCG was led by redshirt sophomore Marisa Sholtes, who tallied her 10th home run of the season on a two-run shot over the right-center field wall in the top of the fifth inning, and catcher Rebecca Kale, who also tallied two RBIs in the Spartan victory on a double that came in the second inning.

WCU broke out to an early 2-0 lead in the first inning after a two-out rally, which saw five consecutive Catamount hits. Left fielder Hunter Gibbons got things rolling for the Catamounts, after knocking home Courtney Price, who was one second, on a shot up the middle after Gibbons beat the throw to first. Erica Hayes then singled on another shot up middle that middle was grabbed by a diving Jasmine Palmer – the Spartans' second baseman – who flipped the ball with her glove to shortstop Rachael McClaskey, but Gibbons was called safe at second on the play. The commotion at second allowed Madison Armstrong to be aggressive on the base paths as she rounded third and dove into home, beating the throw to the plate.

The Spartans responded in the top of the second inning after Rebecca Kale blasted a line drive up the middle, scoring teammates McClaskey and Sidney Grkman. The Spartan throw from center field took an awkward bounce off the rubber in the circle and trickled toward the backstop on the third base side.  WCU catcher Armstrong quickly picked the ball up and made a laser throw at third base in time to tag Kale out.

In the bottom of the second frame, the Catamounts would regain the lead after Shaina Reed doubled to right field, setting up Courtney Buchanan for a sacrifice bunt that advanced Reed to third. Leadoff hitter Ashlyn Long then hit a high-bouncing ball up the middle that was fielded by McClaskey, who attempted to catch Reed dashing for home plate, but the throw was high and tipped off the glove of the UNCG catcher's glove. 

After the Spartans went three-and-out in the top of the third, the Catamounts scored for the third straight inning. Armstrong doubled down the right field line. Gibbons then grounded to UNCG second baseman Palmer, which allowed Armstrong to advance to third with one out. Hayes hit a hard ground ball to second, but Palmer opted not to make the play at home as Armstrong came in to score the Catamounts' fourth run of the day.

The Spartans posted back-to-back two-run innings in the fourth and fifth to take a 6-4 lead entering the sixth inning. In the top of the fourth, UNCG loaded the bases, prompting WCU head coach Jim Clift to pull his starter Kinsey Liscio from the circle in exchange for Buchanan. A Grkman sacrifice fly let Emily Lopez – a pinch runner for Sholtes – tally the third UNCG run of the game. Following a Kale hit-by-pitch, Palmer drew a walk with the bases loaded, allowing McClaskey to trot home to tie the game at 4-4.

For the first time all day, UNCG grabbed the lead in the fifth inning. Following a Gabrielle Cubbage single up the middle, Sholtes launched a game-winning home run over the center field fence, which put her tied for the SoCon lead with her 10th home run of the season and giving the Spartans a 6-4 advantage.

The Catamounts cut the gap in half in the sixth frame, scoring a run, and put the tying run on base in the seventh but Stephanie Bryden came on in relief and got the final two outs for her first save of the season.


No. 5 Mercer Blanks Top-Seeded UNCG, 3-0

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. – Fifth-seeded Mercer earned a 3-0 victory over top-seeded UNCG in Thursday's second contest of the day and fifth of the 2017 Southern Conference Softball Championship at Frost Stadium on the campus of The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

With the win, the Bears improve to 26-29 on the season and advance to face the winner of Thursday's game between No. 3 ETSU and No.7 Chattanooga, which is slated for 3 p.m. The Spartans fall to 28-23 and will face No. 6 Western Carolina, which eliminated Furman in Thursday's opening contest with a score of 4-1, at 5:30 p.m. in an elimination game.

Mercer wasted no time in jumping out to an early lead as leadoff hitter Meghan Rud singled to center field in the top of the first inning. Rud then stole second base before advancing to third on a Taylor Miller ground out to the UNCG shortstop Rachael McClaskey. With Rud on third, Bears' designated Taylor Rodgers laid down a sacrifice bunt to Spartan starting pitcher Alicia Bazonski, who attempted to flip the ball with her left-handed glove to catcher Rebecca Kale, but Kale bobbled the toss, allowing Rud to slide across home plate on the fielder's choice. Mercer starting pitcher Megan Bilgri went three up, three down, in the bottom of the first frame.

After Bazonski retired back-to-back batters to open the second inning, Mercer right fielder Shaila Warren, singled to right field before stealing second with Mercer second baseman Danielle Castleberry at the plate. Warren then advanced to third on a Bazonski wild pitch against Castleberry. The freshman second baseman hit a ground ball back to Bazonski, who attempted to get the final out for the Spartans, but her throw was too high for UNCG first baseman Marisa Sholtes, allowing Warren to score the Bears' second run of the game and advancing Castleberry to second.

Innings three, four and five were scoreless and saw a combined three hits between the Bears and the Spartans. UNCG left two runners stranded – on first and second – in the bottom of the fifth inning after Mercer leftfielder Taylor Miller made a diving catch in shallow leftfield off a line drive by UNCG's Hagan Kiser, who was pinch hitting for Spartan centerfielder Emily Acquaviva, to end the inning.

Mercer scored their third and final run in the top of the sixth frame after Bears' third baseman Quirisa Mauga singled up the middle, which was followed by a Meghan Lane double to centerfield. On the play, Mauga rounded third and reached home safely, beating the Spartans' throw to home, but UNCG catcher Kale caught Lane in a jam as she attempted round second base. Kale fired a laser to second as Lane attempted to dive back to second, but was tagged out on the plate.

With the win, Mercer is now 7-4 all-time in Southern Conference tournament play. Mercer freshman pitcher Stella Preston, who entered the game in the sixth inning, recorded her ninth save of the year to extend her national lead and gained sole possession of the Bears' career saves record. Preston's ninth save of the year also gives her sole possession of second in the Southern Conference single season record book. She now only trails the 11 saves recorded by Chattanooga's Kandice Irwin in 2010.

UNCG's Bazonski (17-13), a 2017 Second Team All-Conference selection, threw her 18th complete game of the season.


No. 6 WCU Eliminates No. 2 Furman, 4-1

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. – Sixth-seeded Western Carolina earned a 4-1 victory over No. 2 seed Furman in Thursday's  opening contest and fourth game of the 2017 Southern Conference Softball Championship at Frost Stadium on the campus of The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

With the win, the Catamounts improve to 18-29 on the season and will advance to face the loser of Thursday's elimination game between No.1 UNCG and No.5 Mercer, which is slated for 12:30 p.m.

The contest opened with Paladin leadoff hitter and right fielder Courtney Jacobs taking a pitch to the facemask from Catamount starting pitcher Courtney Buchanan, allowing Jacobs to advance to first base. Furman center fielder Lauren Duggar was then walked by Buchanan, putting Paladin runners on first and second base. Buchanan would find her rhythm, retiring the next three batters, including back-to-back strikeouts to end the top of the first, leaving two Furman runners stranded. In the bottom of the first, Furman starting pitcher Emily Demonte retired the first three Catamount batters on just five pitches.

After a scoreless second inning, the Catamounts were the first to score a run in the bottom of the third. WCU senior Kara Salvo recorded the game's first hit, leading off for the Catamounts in the third frame with a single to up the middle.  After a Shaina Reed sacrifice bunt to advance Salvo to second, and a Buchanan walk, Salvo advanced to third base on a fielder's choice on a ground ball that was hit to Paladin shortstop Brittany Houston by Ashlyn Long, who reached first base safely. Long would then steal second, putting the Catamount runners on second and third. A Demonte passed ball gave WCU its first run of the game as Salvo scored and Long advanced to third.

Buchanan and the Catamounts again retired three consecutive Paladin batters, including Buchanan's fourth strikeout to open the inning.  Western Carolina would add to their lead in the bottom of the fourth.  A Hunter Gibbons shot to deep left-center field bounced over the outfield wall, which advanced teammate Madison Armstrong, who was one first base, to third base. WCU's Erica Hayes then grounded out to the Bigham at second base, but scored Armstrong in doing so, and advancing Gibbons to third base. Salvo recorded her second hit of the game with two outs to bring home Gibbons from third, which gave the Catamounts a 3-0 lead to close out the fourth frame.

Furman answered in the top of the fifth as Lauren Duggar broke up Buchanan's no-hit bid with a two-out, infield single. Lindsey Bert walked to move Duggar into scoring position and AnnaRose  Borrelli singled to right-center to put the Paladins on the board and register her team-best 32 RBI of the season, while cutting the Catamount lead to 3-1.

Furman's Taylor Vahle drew a leadoff walk in the sixth, but WCU's Kinsey Liscio took over in the circle for Demonte and retired three of the next four Paladin batters along two base runners stranded to close out the top of the sixth. Another Hayes RBI triple in the bottom of the frame pushed the Western Carolina lead to 4-1. Liscio shut the door in the seventh after allowing a leadoff walk.

Western Carolina's Buchanan (7-8) was credited with the win for the Catamounts, while Liscio notched her first save of the season. Demonte (10-11) suffered the loss for Furman after allowing four runs, one earned, on five hits in 5.2 innings. She walked one batter and did not record a strikeout. Lindsey Bert, who came in for Demonte in the sixth, notched a strikeout in relief to end the sixth inning. The strikeout marked her 562nd and tied her with Rachel Henley for third place on Furman's career list.

Furman, which garnered co-regular-season champion status alongside UNCG, finishes its season at 31-23 overall.

 
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