Softball suffers first loss in Salem, setting up do-or-die game Sunday

SALEM, Va. – The Saint Anselm College softball team suffered its first loss of the 2018 NCAA Division II Softball Championship, falling 11-5 to Southern Arkansas in a game played almost entirely in pouring rain on Saturday at James I. Moyer Sports Complex.

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After winning an elimination game earlier in the day against third-seeded and sixth-ranked Angelo State, seventh-seeded and eighth-ranked Southern Arkansas (60-10) kept its season alive by scoring 10 runs over the first three innings on its way to forcing another game between the two teams on Sunday. Saint Anselm (43-11-1), which saw its seven-game winning streak come to an end and lost for only the fourth time in the last 34 games, faces the Lady Muleriders for the third time in Salem at 11 a.m. on Sunday, May 27 in a do-or-die game with a spot in the championship series on the line.

The third meeting between the champions of the East and Midwest Regionals will follow the resumption of Saturday's other game between eighth-seeded Southern Indiana and sixth-seeded Saint Leo. After eliminating top-seeded North Georgia earlier in the day, Saint Leo led USI, 4-2, in the top of the sixth before the rain forced the game to be halted. If Saint Leo is able to hold on in the resumption of that game on Sunday morning at 8:30 a.m., the Lions and Screaming Eagles will play another full game prior to the game between Saint Anselm and Southern Arkansas.

After being no-hit by Southern Arkansas starter Victoria Taylor into the sixth inning two days prior, the Hawks tallied three hits in the top of the first off the righthander to put an early run on the board. Singles by Amanda Bickford and Erin Thompson on either side of a sacrifice bunt by Maggie Murphy put runners on the corners with one out, and after a pop out, Shannon Colson drove a single to center field to bring in Bickford.

In the bottom of the inning, the Lady Muleriders scored six runs on two hits thanks largely to seven walks to lead 6-1 after one. Five of the first seven batters in the inning walk for Southern Arkansas, which scored three runs on bases-loaded, one on a passed ball and two on a two-run single by Brooke Goad.

Saint Anselm started the top of the third with back-to-back singles back through the box but Taylor got out of the inning thanks in part to a running catch by Hallie Saintignan deep in the gap in left center as Colson made a bid for an extra-base hit.

The Lady Muleriders quickly loaded the bases in the bottom of the third on a single by Sarah Pitre, a throwing error on a bunt and an intentional walk to Goad. After Abbie Murrell struck out Megan Godoyo, Faith Otts hit a sacrifice fly to right to tack on Southern Arkansas' seventh run and Jill Roye followed with an RBI double to right center. Coming up with runners on second and third and two outs, Marina Duran cracked a two-run single down the left-field line to make it a 10-1 game.

After being lifted in the first inning, Courtney Fisher re-entered the game in the bottom of the fourth and was greeted by a double to right center off the bat of Pitre, who moved to third on a ground out and later scored on a Godoyo single to shallow right. Fisher suffered her first loss since Apr. 9 after allowing seven runs in 3.1 innings of work. Abbie Murrell allowed four runs (no earned runs) on five hits over 2.2 frames in the circle.

In the top of the fifth, it was Saint Anselm's turn to capitalize on free passes as the Hawks used five walks and a hit batter to score four runs to avoid a run-rule defeat. Two walks and a single filled the bases and, with two outs, Jordan O'Connor and Lauren Washburn drew consecutive four-pitch walks to bring in two runs. With the count at 2-0 on Madison Borrelli, there was a 13-minute rain delay and, upon resumption, Borrelli coaxed another walk to plate a run. The next batter, Shannon McLaughlin, was hit by a pitch to plate the fourth run of the inning before Brooke Ford-Nelson got her team out of the inning with an 11-5 lead courtesy of a three-pitch strikeout.

Fisher retired seven batters in a row, four via strikeout, starting with the final out of the fourth, but Saint Anselm could not get any closer off Ford-Nelson, who allowed just one hit in 2.1 innings of relief. Despite allowing five earned runs in 4.2 innings, Taylor improved to 33-0 on the season with the five earned runs matching the most the First Team All-American has allowed in a game in 2018.