Courtney Stevens’ RBI single up the middle scored Shelbe Hughes with the game-winning run in the bottom of the seventh as Emporia State eliminated Florida Southern 2-1 to advance to the title game of the NCAA Division II Softball Championship in Salem, Va.
Megan Brown, who came in relief in the sixth and retired the first five batters she faced, struck out the opening two hitters of the seventh inning. Hughes was hit by a pitch, and she advanced to second on a passed ball. Stevens then sent a bouncer up the middle, and Hughes slid around Moccasin catcher Leah English’s attempt to block the plate to advance the Hornets to the championship game against Lock Haven.
“We knew it was going to be a good game from the start,” ESU head coach Kristi Bredbenner said. “Florida Southern wanted to rebound, and we were ready to go. I thought we came out a little flat, and we did a good job making the adjustments. In the end, we had to make an adjustment. We wanted to make her (Brown) throw something inside, and she did and hit Shelbe. We were able to move the runners around, and she hit the ball up the middle which is what she’s done all year.”
“I was just looking for any way I could contribute,” Courtney Stevens said. “I knew she lived on the outside pitch. I was looking to take it up the middle or to the right side. I’ve been looking for any way I can contribute, and hitting is working out this weekend.”
Melissa Stevens was stellar in the circle again, advancing her record to 30-3 on the year with a run on a hit and 11 strikeouts in the complete-game effort. Stevens was struck to the early disadvantage in the fourth against Florida Southern (55-8). She walked Jesse Shepherd to leadoff the frame, and with one out, Jackie Leppla singled to center. The throw to third bounced away from ESU’s Megan Davison, allowing Shepherd to score.
“I went in with my game plan and adjusted to the hitters,” Melissa Stevens said. “It’s what I’ve done all week. I’m tired and I’ve thrown a lot of innings, but I’ve tried to keep hitters off-balance and let my defense work behind me. They’ve done a great job. It really hasn’t sunk in that we are playing for the national title.”
ESU (62-6) bounced back in the fifth, however, as Hughes, who scored both of ESU’s runs on the day, drew a one-out walk. Courtney Stevens, who finished 2-for-3 including the game-winning hit, singled to bring up Laura Pfautsch. Pfautsch beat out a double-play ball, allowing Hughes to score the tying run.
Megan Brown suffered her first loss of the tournament, falling to 30-4 as she allowed the winning run on one hit with three strikeouts in an inning and two-thirds. Stacey Bronson started the contest, allowing a run on three hits over five innings.
The Hornets will face Lock Haven for the national title Monday at 11 a.m. EST. An Emporia State win will force the deciding game at 1:30 p.m. EST. CSTV will broadcast both contests.