GREENSBORO, N.C. – The second-seeded College of Charleston softball team fell in the first round of the double-elimination Southern Conference Championship to seventh-seeded Western Carolina, 3-1, on Wednesday afternoon at the UNCG Softball stadium.
CofC (34-19) was held to five hits as the Cougars failed to get to Catamount starter Jordan Garrett who went the distance and put five down on strikes.
The five Cougar hits came from five different players with Lizzy Vaughn (Placerville, Calif.) driving in the lone run in a seventh-inning comeback attempt which would ultimately fall short.
The Cougars will once again have to work through the consolation bracket of the double-elimination tournament in order to land their third-consecutive championship game appearance. CofC will now face the loser of No. 3 Georgia Southern versus No. 6 Chattanooga on Thursday, May 9 at 9 a.m. in the first of five straight games CofC will have to win to be crowned champion.
In both 2011 and 2012, the Cougars lost in either the first or second round and then won four-straight games while facing elimination to land in the finals.
Cougar starter Hope Klicker (Walla Walla, Wash.) quickly put the first two hitters she faced down on strikes, but three-hole hitter Amber Steinhardt hooked a ball down the leftfield line which narrowly stayed inside the foul pole to give WCU the early lead.
Klicker was tagged with the loss in the contest as she went 5.0 innings and allowed three runs – two of which were earned – and struck out six hitters.
A Cougar fielding error started the top of the third inning, and CofC unsuccessfully tried to get the lead runner on a sacrifice bunt attempt which put two runners on with no outs. The defense kept the runners at bay on a pair of groundouts by the ensuing batters, but Steinhardt made the Cougars pay with a two-out, run-scoring infield single.
Steinhardt continued to hurt the Cougars when she led off the sixth with a single to left and the Cougars tried once again to erase the lead runner on a sacrifice bunt effort but couldn’t make the throw to second base in time. With two on and no outs, Haley Pace singled back up the middle and Steinhardt scored on a close play at the plate to give the Catamounts the 3-0 lead.
Valerie Cassell (Edison, N.J.) entered the game after the run scored and immediately forced a double play ball and easily handled a comebacker to the circle to bail the Cougars out of the jam. Cassell stayed on to pitch the seventh and was once again perfect to give her offense a chance in the bottom half.
CofC’s bats would finally respond in the bottom of the seventh, but the rally would ultimately prove to be too-little, too-late. Rebecca Mueller (Fair Oaks, Calif.) led off the inning with a line-drive single into left field to extend her reaching-base streak to 18 games. Courtney Clark (Tampa, Fla.) entered the game as a pinch hitter and nursed a walk out of an extremely productive at-bat in which she spoiled several pitches to stay alive before waiting out ball four. Vaughn drove a single through the right side which scored the lone Cougar run and put the potential game-tying runner on base, but the rally would end thereafter.
Against Chattanooga and Georgia Southern – one of which the Cougars will face in the second round, and both beat CofC in the 2011 and 2012 championship games, respectively– the Cougars went a combined 4-1 in the 2013 regular season.