In just its second season in the Lone Star Conference, the University of the Incarnate Word claimed its first LSC Softball Championship Tournament title.
Not only did the team’s 6-4 win over Angelo State at Pioneer Field in Denton, Texas, snap the No. 10 Rambelles’ 10-game win streak, it also earned UIW the league’s automatic qualification into the NCAA Division II Softball Championship Field. The Cardinals lost 3-1 in Edmond, Okla., to Central Oklahoma on May 4, and then 5-2 to Abilene Christian in the losers’ bracket on May 5, finishing 28-25 overall.
The Cardinals completed a memorable run through the tournament field as the seventh seed. UIW started its championship run by defeating No. 2 seed Texas Woman’s 5-1 in the opening round on April 27. On April 28, the Cardinals whipped No. 6 Midwestern State 6-3 in the semifinals earlier in the afternoon before taking on Angelo State that evening.
UIW began the championship game with back-to-back singles. Both hitters moved into scoring position after a sacrifice bunt. The Rambelles worked their way out of the jam, sparked by a heads-up play from their steady shortstop Chelsey Walters. Walters fielded a sharply hit ball moving to her right and caught Ashley Freeman leaning too far toward home. Freeman was eventually tagged for out No. 2, and the inning came to a close one batter later after a lazy fly ball to left.
ASU – the top offensive team in the league – scored in the opening frame for the third consecutive tournament game. Hits by Morgan Spearman and Lauren Smith off Cardinals starter Whitney Waltrip started the inning. Although not known for her speed, Spearman demonstrated it in the first. The sophomore advanced to third on a fly ball to center and then scored on a sacrifice fly by Elsamartina Apo.
The lead was short-lived as the Cardinals scored runs in the second and third innings to claim a 2-1 lead. The go-ahead run came from a single off the wall by Lea Padilla to score Sarah O’Brien from third.
In the third inning, ASU’s Smith stood on first and attempted to score on a Kacie Easley double down the right-field line. The junior outfielder rounded third and tried to slide around the tag, but a strong relay throw got her by a step.
Although the Belles came up empty in the third, DeeshanaLynn Tafiti did not come up empty in the fourth. The senior hit her third home run of the tournament and 17th of the season. Her solo blast measured 274 feet and tied the game 2-2.
The game saw its third lead change in the top of the fifth. Although not as far as Tafiti’s, Lea Padilla’s two-run homer fell over the wall to put the Cardinals up 4-2. The lead stretched to 6-2 after UIW plated two runs on three hits in the sixth inning.
ASU made a seventh-inning charge, with four consecutive hits. Apo’s two-run single made it a 6-4 affair, but the Belles come up short.
Waltrip (11-13) worked 4.0 innings and allowed two runs on six hits before handing the ball to teammate Briana Sanchez. The junior closed out the final three innings, striking out six and working around six hits.
Claire Molina had a no decision, as the senior tossed 3.2 innings. Mary Kate McKay (20-5) came in on relief and threw 3.1 innings, but took the loss.