By Alfred Kojima, NAIA Media Assistant
COLUMBUS, Ga. – (Box Score) Sophomore right fielder Shea Blanchard (pictured top left - courtesy of www.naiapictures.com) hit a three-run home run in the bottom of the 14th inning to lead No. 10 seed Spring Hill (Ala.) to a 6-3 victory over No. 7 Auburn Montgomery (Ala.) in the opening round of the 2013 NAIA Softball National Championship final site at the South Commons Softball Complex on Friday. The Badgers move into the winner’s bracket of the double-elimination event and will play No. 2 Lubbock Christian (Texas) Saturday at 4 p.m. EDT. AUM plays Saturday at 1 p.m. in the loser’s bracket.
Several records were established in the game that lasted 3 hours and 40 minutes. Both starting pitchers went the distance, combining for 426 pitches, including 231 from the right arm of AUM hurler Cassie Daniels. The 14 innings is one inning shy of the championship record for longest game – 15 innings between Washburn (Kan.) and Winthrop (S.C.) in 1985.
Sophomore Cassie Daniels tied an NAIA championship single-game strikeout record, fanning 19 Spring Hill batters. Andrea Drake of Oklahoma City had 19 strikeouts against Davis and Elkins (W.Va.) in 1989. Daniels also set a record for walks with 13.
SHC freshman pitcher Caroline Sagrera , the NAIA national leader in strikeouts, collected 12 whiffs, while walking six, to improve to 36-9 overall on the season.
“She’s phenomenal, she worked real hard today,” said SHC head coach Alison Sellers-Cook about Sagrera. “The harder it gets, the stronger she gets and the more determined she gets. She stayed strong through it all, and I’m really proud of her.”
AUM (44-11) took a 2-0 lead in the second inning, when freshman catcher Lauren Shaw hit her third home run of the season. In the third inning, junior designated player Leslie Kelley added a solo home run, her seventh of the year, to increase the lead to 3-0.
AUM collected six hits, two by junior shortstop Jessica Pepper. SHC had seven hits.
In the sixth inning, SHC (46-15) had runners reach on an error and a walk. Sophomore first baseman Elise deBruler then picked up the Badgers first hit and tied the game on one swing with her fourth home run of the season.
Both teams had opportunities to plate the go-ahead run. In the ninth, AUM senior second baseman Haley Johnson led the inning off with a double, moved to second on a groundout but was left stranded at third. SHC managed to leave two runners on base in the eighth, tenth and 13th inning and the bases loaded in the 11th. SHC stranded 18 runners on base overall, while AUM left eight runners on base.
In the 14th for Spring Hill, debruler led off the inning with her third base hit of the day. Freshman Julia Cieutat entered the game as a pinch runner and moved to second on a walk to Raleigh Downs. After a sacrifice bunt by freshman shortstop Sam Leach to advance the runners to second and third, Blanchard hit the game-winning walk-off home run to left center field.
The championship is a 10-team, double-elimination event hosted by the Columbus Sports Council. This is the 33rd annual championship and takes place in the state of Georgia for the first time in NAIA softball history.
For more information on the national championship, click here.
2013 Post-game interview with Shea Blanchard, who hit the game-winning walk-off 3-run home run in the bottom of 14th inning