Shepherd Softball finishes up MEC tournament action

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After a strong showing at the MEC tournament, the Rams now hope for a NCAA II regional bid.

The Rams (38-20) rapped up their MEC tournament action Saturday afternoon. Winning two of the three games, the Rams have established a good rhythm heading into possible NCAA tournament action.

In game one, the Rams blew away the Blue Knights (17-28) of Urbana University (Ohio) by an 8-0 score. Senior starting pitcher Tara Hanson (W, 20-5) put on a stellar showing in her five innings of work (3 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 4 SO), as the Blue Knights fell behind early and were unable to generate any offensive production in response.

The Rams scored three runs a piece in the bottom of the second and fourth innings, respectively, in route to the victory. Sophomore pitcher Lori Sturgill got the scoring started with her bases-clearing triple in the bottom of the second inning that brought home sophomore catcher/infielder Rachel Taylor and freshman infielder Debbie Stuart to give the Rams a 2-0 lead.

Sturgill would come in to score later in the inning as junior outfielder Jessica Robinson grounded out to the Blue Knights’ shortstop but was credited with a RBI on the play, stretching the Rams’ lead to 3-0.

Sophomore shortstop/outfielder Kaitlyn Konopka doubled to left center field in the bottom of the fourth inning, leading to Robinson and Sturgill to come home and score two more runs to pad the Rams’ lead to 6-0.

Konopka was returned the favor when senior third/first baseman Alexandra Witt delivered a sacrifice fly to center field that brought Konopka home and increased the Rams’ lead to 7-0. The Rams would hold on to win 8-0 in the five-inning-shortened game.

The second game of the day proved to be much more of a test for the Rams, as they took on the Mountain Lions (30-28) of Concord University, escaping with a 3-2 victory.

With there still being no score in the top of the third inning, outfielder/pitcher Abby Beatty came through for the Mountain Lions with a RBI single down the right field line that brought in second baseman/shortstop Jenna Witt to provide the Mountain Lions with an early 1-0 lead.

Senior third/first baseman Alexandra Witt gave the Rams a spark with her solo-homerun to left field in the bottom of the third inning that finally put the Rams on the board and tied the score at 1-1.

After a RBI single down the right field line by infielder Kylie Kent in the top of the fifth inning, the Mountain Lions now took control of the low-scoring affair with a 2-1 lead.

However, in the bottom of the seventh and final inning, Taylor delivered when it mattered most with her walk-off double to left center field that drove home Stuart and sophomore first/third baseman Connor Gilligan.

Winning by a 3-2 score, the Rams showed heart when they needed it most.

Sturgill (W, 10-4) took the win for the Rams. Sturgill (6.0 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 1 SO) never let the Mountain Lions get into a good rhythm offensively.

Offense was clearly hard to come by for both teams, as each team recorded just six hits offensively.

In the third and last game of the day (and the MEC tournament), the Rams fell to the Cavaliers (34-16) of UVa-Wise by a 3-1 score.

The Rams had plenty of baserunners, but were only able to get one runner home the entire game.

This one run came off the bat of Sturgill in the bottom of the sixth inning, who launched a RBI single up the middle that gave plenty of time for Gilligan to score an unearned run off of.

However, this made the score 3-1 in favor of the Cavaliers, who did just enough offensively to get the win.

The Cavaliers’ offense did not have to perform at its’ optimal level as starting pitcher Emily Kale (W, 7-4) was executing at the top of her game. Kale (7.0 IP, 7 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 2 SO) was a thorn in the Rams’ all day long, as they could never drive home the runners that got on to base.

Hanson (L, 20-6) took the loss for the Rams. Hanson (1.2 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 0 S0) did not have her best outing, as the Cavaliers jumped on her early.

In the top of the first inning, third baseman Samantha Ely delivered a RBI single that brought home second baseman/shortstop Alexa Hernandez to give the Cavaliers a 1-0 lead.

The Cavaliers would score one run a piece in the top of the second and third innings, respectively, to take home the win.

Outfielder Zoe Millard launched a RBI single down the left field line and shortstop/third baseman Nikki Smith did the same to center field in the top of the second and third innings, respectively, two provide the other two Cavaliers runs, which would be enough to win by a 3-1 score.

Two fielding errors by the Rams led to two Cavaliers’ runs, which hurt in a game where the offense was not clicking.

On the bright side, the Rams still had plenty of reason to celebrate. Their 38 wins this season are the most in school history. Konopka posted a new record in hits in a single season in school history with 69, surpassing the 67 hit performance of Mia Zappacosta in 2007. Hanson, with 51 wins now, is now just one of two pitchers in school history with 50 career wins or more, with only Nichole Pitcock (2008-2011) totaling more, with 57.

The Rams will know on Monday morning whether or not they qualift for a NCAA II regional selection.

Anthony Bracken is the Sports Editor of The Picket. He can be reached at abrack02@rams.shepherd.edu