GREENSBORO, N.C. – Junior Abbie Miranda knocked a walk-off RBI single through the left side in the bottom of the eighth inning, and top-seeded Samford edged No. 2 seed Furman 4-3 on Saturday afternoon at UNCG Softball Stadium in Greensboro, N.C., to earn its first Southern Conference softball tournament championship in program history.
With the win, Samford improves to 40-18 – a program record for wins in a season – and nailed down the SoCon’s automatic berth to the NCAA Softball Championship. This marks the Bulldogs’ first tournament crown since 1991 when they competed in the NSWAC (New South Women's Athletic Conference). Samford played its first season of softball in the SoCon in 2009.
The Paladins, meanwhile, end the season with a 33-28 mark.
Miranda’s walk-off single was set up by senior Callie Brister’s double with no outs. Brister was able to make her way around third on and eventually slid home on Miranda’s base hit.
A wild seventh inning set the stage for Miranda’s heroics. Furman entered the top half of the inning trailing the Bulldogs 2-1 and in need of an offensive spark. Taylor Collins led off with a single, and after a Brittany Houston sacrifice bunt, the Paladins’ phenomenal short stop, Sieara Bishop, singled up the middle. Bishop was able to move to second base, and Collins moved to third on the throw from the outfield. With two outs gone, Bulldog left fielder Shelby Maze couldn't haul in a high fly ball off the bat of Lindsey Bert, allowing Bishop and Collins to score and giving the Paladins a 3-2 advantage.
Suddenly facing a deficit, the Bulldogs entered the bottom of the seventh inning in need of at least one run in hopes of avoiding a second, winner-take-all contest. Freshman Hannah Trombley delivered by just squeezing a solo shot over the fence left field to tie the game at 3-3. Bert eventually worked out of the inning to send the ballgame to extra frames.
Brister and Trombley led the Samford squad with two hits apiece. On the Furman side, Bishop was 3-for-4 with a double for a game high in hits.
Samford redshirt senior Mollie Hanson earned a complete-game win, her 23rd victory of the season, by allowing one earned run on eight hits. She was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player. Bert tossed 7 2/3 innings for Furman, surrendering four earned runs on eight hits.
The Bulldogs posted one run in bottom of the first and bottom of the second innings and held a 2-0 advantage for the majority of the contest. Second baseman Hannah Reynolds cut the lead in half in the bottom of the fifth frame with a solo jack to center field.
Perhaps the Paladins’ best opportunity came in the top of the first, when they were able to load the bases on a pair of hits and a fielding error. Hanson worked out of trouble, however, courtesy a strikeout and then a lineout to third base.
Furman was also inches away from tying the contest in top of the sixth, when a pitch got away from Hanson and went past catcher Abby Sweeney. Paladin center fielder Lauren Duggar came charging from third in an attempt to score, but Sweeney was able to recover the ball and make a lunging tag at the plate to end in top half of the frame
Despite the loss, Bishop’s three hits did reserve her a place in the SoCon record books. She finished the week with 13 hits, tying a tournament record set in 2006 by Georgia Southern’s Shanita Black. Teammate Candace Johnson also etched her name into the record books on Friday by setting a SoCon tournament record with 12 RBIs for the week.
Samford will find out its NCAA tournament destination on Sunday at 10 p.m. (EST). The selection show will be broadcast on ESPNU.
All-Tournament Team (11 players due to tie)
Danielle Knoetze, ETSU, Jr., IF
Lindsey Bert, Furman, So., P/DP
Sieara Bishop, Furman, Sr., SS
Candace Johnson, Furman, R-So., OF
Emma Ogburn, Furman, So., C
Megan Bilgri, Mercer, So., P
Callie Brister, Samford, Sr., IF
Mollie Hanson, Samford, R-Sr., P
Abbie Miranda, Samford, Jr., IF
Abby Sweeney, Samford, Jr., C
Amanda Beltran, Chattanooga, Fr., C
Most Outstanding Player
Mollie Hanson, Samford, R-Sr., P