Julia Popovich singled home the deciding run, and Kristin Erb hurled a four-hitter as Lock Haven advanced to Monday’s championship game with a 2-1 win over Florida Southern Sunday afternoon at the NCAA Division II Softball Championship in Salem, Va.
Both of the Lady Eagles’ runs came with two outs after the starting pitchers battled through the opening two frames. The Lady Eagles struck first in the game off Lady Moccasin starter Stacey Bronson, who earned the start with Megan Brown suffering from illness. Bronson looked as if she was going to make it nine straight outs to start the game, but Steph Nail, the nine hitter in the order, lifted a shot over the fence in left center to give LHU a 1-0 lead.
“I was looking for a base hit,” Nail said. “It was right in my zone where I like a pitch, and I just took it. It was a low pitch, and I took it yard.”
Florida Southern answered back in its next at-bat. Jesse Shepherd led off with a single and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt from Sarah Kohlbrenner. Jackie Leppla then hit a one-out single to right that brought Shepherd around from second to knot the game at one apiece.
Bronson, who fell to 17-4 in the complete-game, two-hit effort, set a season high for walks with her third of the game to leadoff the fifth. The Lady Eagles took advantage of the free pass, moving Ilia Lopez to second on a sacrifice by Amanda Roosa and then to third on a ground out from Nail. With two away, Popovich punched a single to shallow left that scored Lopez with the deciding run.
“That inning was all about execution,” Popovich said. “Steph (Nail) did a good job moving the runner over, and I just tried to poke it through the infield. I saw where I needed to hit the ball and put it there.”
The run would be all Erb would need as she retired five of the last seven hitters she faced to pick up her third win of the tournament and run her record to 35-1. Erb allowed the lone FSC run on four hits while striking out 10 over the full seven innings.
“Warming up, I worked on keeping the ball low and hitting my spots,” Erb said. “I tried to keep the ball on the infield and make the defense work.”
Florida Southern led off the sixth with a single by Shepherd and then stole second, but Erb retired the next three hitters to work out of the jam. The Mocs had another opportunity in the seventh to tie the game. With one out, Angela Williams singled up the middle, but the threat was erased as she was picked off of the bag by Roosa.
“We put ourself in a good position going into tomorrow,” LHU head coach Kelley Green said. “We had solid pitching, solid defense and timely hitting. WE knew it would come down to that, and I’m happy we got the job done.”
Florida Southern will face Emporia State Sunday at 2:30 p.m. The winner of that game faces Lock Haven Monday at 11 a.m. EST in the national title game.
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