CONWAY, SC— Winthrop opened up the 2014 Big South Conference Softball Championship presented by Musco Sports Lighting Thursday afternoon with a 3-0 victory over fourth-seeded Campbell behind a couple of home runs and a solid pitching performance from senior Sara Allen.
Allen didn’t allow a hit through 5.1 innings before a double to right ended her no-hit bid but remained focused and held on to record her third shutout of the year after allowing just two hits. Allen improved to 13-11 on the year as she walked four and struck out four.
Winthrop advances to play at 2 p.m. on Friday and will face top-seeded Coastal Carolina after it defeated ninth-seeded Liberty 3-1 Thursday afternoon. The Eagles are now 27-24 on the year and have guaranteed their first winning record since 2009. Campbell falls to 29-26 on the year and will play an elimination game Saturday morning at 9 a.m.
“Sara threw a great game and I thought Campbell’s pitcher Roberts threw a great game,” said Winthrop head coach Mark Cooke. “We just had a couple of home runs and drove in another but that was a great pitching duel. It was a tremendously, well-played game by both teams. Our defense was awesome today. They made things happen and kept the ball in the infield for most of the game. As a whole it was just a well-played game by both teams and that was the kind of college game you’d expect from Big South teams.”
The victory gives Cooke 48 wins all-time in Big South Tournament play, which is now tied for the most in league history with former Coastal Carolina head coach Jess Dannelly.
Kelsey Ritter hit a solo home run down the left field line with one out in the top of the fifth inning as the ball just had enough to clear the fence for her seventh of the season and a 1-0 lead for the Eagles. That home run proved to be the game-winning run.
The Eagles made it 2-0 on an RBI double by Naomi Stevens that plated pinch-runner Kim Ryder from second base. Maddie Antone followed the Ritter home run with a single to left and then moved to second on an infield single by Paige Haley. Antone was then replaced on the bases by Ryder.
Antone, who was voted the 2014 Big South Freshman of the Year, provided some insurance in the top of the seventh inning with one away as she drove a pitch over the fence in left center for her eighth on the year.
Winthrop was fortunate in the second inning as Allen fielded a grounder but her throw to first was wide of the bag and rolled into foul territory down the right field line. Brittany Bruce hustled around the bases and was on her way around third base to score when she lost her balance and fell, forcing her to stay at third. Allen then got back-to-back ground outs to end the inning.
Allen tried to make something happen offensively with one out in the third inning as she hit a soft fly ball that went off the glove of left fielder Erica Johnson as she ran a long way to make the play. The ball bounced away from Johnson and Allen tried to stretch the single into a double but a perfect throw by Johnson to second base just beat Allen to the bag for the out.
In the bottom of the sixth, Allen gave up her first hit of the game as Stephanie Jones hit a flare to right that was out of the reach of Megan Winningham and Campbell had runners and first and second with one out as the clean-up batter Courtney Klingler with a chance to tie the game or take the lead. Allen got Klingler to line out to second and then ended the inning getting Milly Martinet to fly out to left in foul territory near the fence.
Courtney Roberts took the loss for the Fighting Camels as she allowed three runs on seven hits with no walks and six strikeouts and falls to 9-9 on the year.
Antone and Haley each finished with two hits as it was the third multi-hit game of Haley’s career. Ritter’s home run now gives her four in her career against Campbell.