Erin Ruest eliminated Muskingum for the second straight year as her three-run, walk-off home run in the bottom of the seventh inning gave Salisbury a 3-1 win Sunday afternoon at the NCAA Division III Softball Championship in Raleigh, N.C.
The Sea Gulls (42-5) fought off elimination as Ruest rallied to take a 1-2 count full. The next pitch she saw she hit a towering shot that sailed over the left-center field fence.
Both teams met in an elimination contest at last year's championship, and Ruest once again brought Salisbury back from the brink of elimination with a two-run double in the eighth inning that gave the Sea Gulls a 2-1 win.
"With one out and Erin having two strikes, it was obvious she was going to hit because she was swinging at everything," Sea Gulls head coach Margie Knight said. "She got her cuts in. It was a wonderful hit to be a part of. It was very exciting."
Lacey Lister and Erica Hoyt, just as in their meeting a year ago in Salem, Va., engaged in quite a pitcher's duel. Lister picked up the win as she allowed a run on six hits in the complete-game outing. Hoyt went six and a third, giving up three runs, all on Ruest's home run, and five hits with six strikeouts.
Both teams had their opportunities throughout the course of the game, but both pitchers worked out of jams to leave runners on base. Salisbury put a runner in scoring position every inning until the sixth, while Muskingum didn't place a runner on second until the sixth.
Muskingum, who ends its season at 42-7, got on the board in the top of the seventh as Julie Johnston singled to short to start off the inning. After Amy Iammarino sacrificed her to second, April Rader reached on an error by Lister to load the bases with one away. Allie Scheetz then dropped a single over the drawn-in infield to put the Muskies on top 1-0. The Muskies had the chance to expand the lead but a fielder's choice putout at the plate and a line-drive back to Lister got the Sea Gulls out of the jam.
"It was a very tough battle. It was a real battle for the coaches and the players," Muskingum head coach Donna Newberry said. "Something was going to crack, and I thought it did when we scored our run. They opened a bigger crack, though.
"We had the bases loaded with one out, and just one more fly ball would have scored one while another hit would have scored a couple. If we would have had that second run, it would have been a different mentality for them at the plate. Knowing you have to have one run versus two is very different. I wasn't at all comfortable with the one-run lead, especially with the way we dodged bullets all game."
The Muskies were unable to dodge Ruest in the bottom of the seventh. Kim Rementer led off the frame with a single up the middle. Kristy Shaffer put her in scoring position with her sacrifice bunt, and then Ruest, looking to extend the inning after a Serena Fleming walk, ended the game with her three-run blast.
"I was pretty much swinging at anything," Ruest said. "That last pitch was a full-count pitch with one out and runners on, so I figured I would go for it because if I didn't get it done then we have other hitters behind me who could."
Salisbury will advance to meet the winner of Sunday afternoon's elimination contest between Ithaca and Alma.