As was the case in the regular season, at the 2014 Old Dominion Athletic Conference (ODAC) Softball Tournament this past weekend in Salem, no one could reel in the Marlins.
Virginia Wesleyan, the regular season champions, went undefeated in tournament play to capture the double with the tournament crown, as Randolph-Macon valiantly fought through the elimination bracket for a second crack at the Marlins in the championship round. The Yellow Jackets ended as tournament runner-up.
“I have never been more proud of a group of players as I was this weekend,” said Randolph-Macon head coach Kevin Proffit. “We fought, scratched, battled, laid out for fly balls, dove for ground balls and made clutch plays defensively all weekend.”
The weekend began Friday as the fourth-seeded Jackets faced fifth-seeded Eastern Mennonite. A back and forth affair, coupled with a five-plus hour rain delay, made for many tense moments for the young team. Leading 4-3 in the sixth while the rain fell, the Royals came back after the delay to score a run in the sixth and two in the seventh for a 6-4 advantage.
Down to their last out and facing an immediate trip to the elimination bracket, shortstop Sharese Jarvis singled to center, then Patrick Henry graduate, sophomore first baseman Katie Woody launched a homer over the center field fence to force extra innings at 6-6.
Randolph-Macon needed to rally again after Eastern Mennonite scored one in their half of the eighth. Jenna Best was the runner on second to start the Jackets’ half of the frame. Katie Lockett singled to put runners on the corners, bringing up Scoop Simon, who slammed a walk-off homer to right for the win.
Freshman starter Kelsey McLaughlin, who Proffit chose to start each game of the tourney, opting to use Best in relief, pitched another complete game to get the Jackets to a second round match Saturday with the Marlins, who routed Randolph-Macon 8-1, forcing the Jackets to win two more games Saturday and another Sunday morning just to get another shot at Virginia Wesleyan in the championship round.
First, the Jackets outslugged Randolph College 11-7, eliminating the third-seeded Wildcats, led by freshman Patrick Henry graduate Hunter Glave, who went two-for-four with a double and two RBI in the loss.
After going 4.1 innings in the earlier loss, McLaughlin threw another complete game in the Randolph victory while Amanda Sopko went three-for-four scoring three runs. Patrick Henry graduate, sophomore Sam Moore, also scored three runs, one via a solo home run.
“The tournament was exactly what I was expecting. We knew we were the underdogs, only having 12 players,” Moore explained. “It was a lot of pressure on all of us but we performed very well.”
Moore took a simple, but effective, approach, to her offensive game in Salem, coming off a regular season where she led the ODAC in home runs (10) and slugging percentage (.812).
“I’ve been focusing a lot on my offense this year to get my swing back from injuries both last year and this year. I told myself to take one game at a time, play each game like it’s your last, and leave it all at the plate.”
The Randolph victory sent the Jackets to a Saturday night showdown for a spot in the final three with second-seeded Lynchburg. McLaughlin came up huge, finishing her 18-plus innings of pitching Saturday by scattering six Lynchburg hits for a 4-2 Jacket victory. Best, Lockett, and designated player Carolyn Gilbertson each had RBI as the bottom half of the order came through offensively.
After a short night’s rest, the Jackets returned to the field Sunday morning to face red-hot Guilford in the final elimination game to see who would battle Virginia Wesleyan for the championship. Knowing there were only so many innings in McLaughlin’s arm, the offense came alive to claim another shootout, eliminating the Cinderella sixth-seed 9-7.
Moore went three-for-four with a triple and two RBI. Jarvis, Woody and catcher Madison Gilman (Patrick Henry) also drove in two runs. Best came in as the closer in the seventh inning. After allowing a one-out single, then a walk, a ground out put Quaker runners on second and third. Best got Calli Pastor, representing the winning run, to strike out swinging to end the game and send the Jackets to the finals.
“The top of the Guilford lineup had given Kelsey problems, so I knew we’d be in good shape to go with Jenna to finish since she’d thrown well against them in the regular season. She stepped up in a clutch situation and closed it out,” Proffit noted.
After such a marathon over less than 48 hours, the Jackets, though with a much better performance Sunday in their second shot at Virginia Wesleyan, just couldn’t overcome their pitching ace, Kristina Karagiorgis. The ODAC’s best pitcher scattered six hits over seven innings, the lone extra base hits coming on a Moore home run and a Woody double, which scored Simon to cut the Marlins lead to 5-2 after six innings.
But that would be the final score as the Jackets went down in order in the seventh inning to close the tournament. This was the first time in Randolph-Macon history that the softball team played for the tournament title.
Moore, who was 0-for-5 in the first two games, went 4-for-10, scoring seven runs in the elimination bracket victories over Randolph, Lynchburg, and Guilford.
Ten of the 12 roster players return for 2015, as Gilbertson and fellow senior Brittni Kidd prepare for graduation. But Proffit isn’t quite ready to pronounce the 2014 season done.
“I honestly feel like we have a shot at an at-large bid for the NCAA (Division III) Tournament. Our program has continued to improve, and, with that, we’ve received regional and national recognition,” Proffit explained. “We played well in the championship game, we were right there. They are proud of themselves, and should be.”
The tournament field will be announced Monday.