Franklin Springs, GA- The North Greenville softball team traveled to Franklin springs Georgia Saturday for a showdown with Emmanuel College and Chowan University for the NCCAA South Regional title and a trip to West Palm Beach Florida for the NCCAA National Tournament.
The Road to Nationals would be tough as NGU was the last seed and would have win at least 2 games if the team would win its opening game and the ever looming possibility of having to win 3 games in a row if the Crusaders were to lose the opening game of the tournament against Emmanuel.
To keep from making it easy the team would choose the ladder. NGU would drop the opening game to Emmanuel 4 to 1. “We just couldn’t muster up the offense in the first game and Emmanuel just got some breaks and a big homerun.” Said head coach Jan McDonald. The loss seemed to light the offensive fire under the Crusaders. NGU returned to the diamond at 3 o’clock for a rematch with Emmanuel after the Lions dropped a game against Chowan by 1 run. NGU started ace Kristyn Smith in the first game of the day which mean the hopes of the Crusaders lay in the hands of freshman Taylor Roof and Roof was ready for the challenge. She announced her presence early as she sat down the first 3 Lion hitters in order posting 1 strikeout. In the top of the first the Crusader offense would respond with 3 runs Bridget Watson and Lindsey Eargle would reach base on an error and a single. Each would advance a base on a Hope Brewer sacrifice fly to left field. Watson and Eargle would advance again on an Allison Bailey sacrifice fly that would score Watson. The next batter Karli Taylor would walk with Eargle remaining on third base the next batter Whitney Center would pickup two RBI’s on a triple to right field. NGU’s next batter would strike out to end the inning with 3 runs on 2 hits and a Lion Error The Crusaders would go on to score 1 run in the 2nd, 3 in the 5th and 1 in the in the 6th with a total of 8. Emmanuel would try to make the game interesting however scoring 2 runs in the 4th inning, 1 in the 5th and 3 in the 7th. Roof would pitch 5 innings giving up 3 runs on 6 hits issuing 2 walks. Relief pitchers for NGU were Elizabeth Bruce who pitched 1 inning of relief giving up 3 runs on 2 hits. The save went to Kristyn Smith who was put in the top of the 7th finish off the Lions which is exactly what she did striking out 2 of the last 3 Lady Lion Batters. Offensive leaders in the second game were Whitney Center who went 1 for 4 with 3 RBI’s, Taylor Roof who helped her own cause by going 2 for 3 with a 3 run homer in the bottom of the 4th, and Allison Bailey and Lindsey Eargle both had an RBI a piece. “I was proud of our girls, they came out with a purpose and we hit the ball well,” said Coach McDonald “we swung at good pitches and played solid defense and I think we were ready for the championship series. With two games down the Crusaders were two wins away from the Regional Title. What stood in the way was number 1 seed Chowan University that had played one game all day and were yet to lose, meaning NGU would have to win twice to take the title. North Greenville was ready for the difficult task. The Crusaders would put on a hitting clinic in the first game against Chowan scoring at least 1 run in every inning except 2 including a 6 run explosion in the 6th. Starting pitcher Kristyn Smith struck out 7 batters in 6 and 2/3’s innings of work giving up 2 runs on 4 hits. Elizabeth Bruce pitched an inning of relief before Coach Jan McDonald would bring Kristyn Smith back into the game to finish the job. Offensive leaders for the Crusaders included Whitney Center who went 3 for 5 with an RBI, Lauren Vick who went 2 for 5 scoring 3 runs, Bridget Watson went 1 for 4 with 3 RBI’s, Lindsey Eargle who went 1 for 5 with with an RBI and run scored, Ashley Warlick who went 2 for 2 with an RBI, and Jessica Turner who went 4 for 4 with 2 RBI’s and 4 runs scored. Coach McDonald said “I am proud of the way our seniors stepped up and led the team and the way the team responded to the adversity of losing our first game and having to win 2 in a row to get to the actual championship game.” The last game of the day would seem to be somewhat of a scripted story. Championship game, Chowan Ace and proven senior Shellie Wimpey matched up against Taylor Roof who has yet to pitch in a college tournament until Saturday. Taylor Roof would match the proven Chowan senior step for step. Pitching 8 innings and striking out 11 Chowan Hawks. The game was scoreless going into the bottom of the 7th inning, North Greenville’s last chance in regulation to win the game and the regional title. “Our bats had been alive all day” said Coach McDonald “the other coaches and I had every bit of confidence that our girls could win the game.” The Crusaders loaded the bases with 1 out but were unable to score sending the game into extra innings. Chowan score 1 run in the top of the 8th inning before Roof posted 2 outs in a row to end the inning. In the bottom of the 8th inning the Crusaders stranded a runner on third and would go on drop the championship game by 1 run. “It was a heartbreaker” Coach McDonald said “I am extremely proud of the way our girls handled themselves throughout the entire season and the tournament and the way the seniors lead the team.” "I am also very proud of Taylor Roof, she is only a freshman and we put her in an extremely difficult situation in the last game and she came through big time for us."
The Crusader Softball team is not completely through with its season, the Crusaders will return home Wednesday April 22nd to face Spartanburg Methodist in a double header that was rescheduled due to inclement weather.