Hawks fall short

Published 3:48 pm Monday, April 25, 2011

ETTRICK, VA. – Crazy eights.

Following a pair of eight-inning thrillers – one that propelled them into the title game while the other would’ve meant a deciding game – Chowan University’s softball team came up short in defense of their Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA) championship Saturday at the Virginia State University Softball Field.

The Hawks bested Virginia State, 3-2, in eight in a play-in game, winning in Chowan’s last at-bat that advanced them to a two-game showdown with Winston-Salem State.

However, the Lady Rams from the Twin-Cities – who’d already beaten Chowan earlier in the tournament – made any more play moot with a 7-6 win when WSSU scored five runs in their last at-bat.

“We just couldn’t finish it,” said a disappointed Chowan Head Coach Mandy Balduf. “But give our opponents credit, it was just their day and not ours.”

Junior Alex Allen’s soft liner to right field scored freshman Liz Sill, lifting Chowan to their 3-2 win in the morning semi-final; and it looked like Allen would be the hero again when her base-hit in the eighth inning of the Winston-Salem game ignited a four-run rally that looked to lock up another title for the Hawks.

But it wasn’t to be.

Chowan started the three-day tournament as if a championship repeat was very much possible: downing J.C. Smith and Bowie State on Thursday.

Friday, they led 2-1 against Winston-Salem State in the first semifinal before the Rams came back to stun the Hawks, 5-3, for their first tournament loss ever and sending Chowan into the loser’s bracket game with Virginia State

But that deciding semifinal with the Lady Trojans had to be rescheduled for Saturday morning because of rain.

Chowan opened the scoring in the second inning with a line-drive homerun over the right-field fence off the bat of freshman Liz Hipple and a 1-0 lead. However, VSU came back to tie the game at 1-1 in the top of the third.

The Trojans led, 2-1, in the bottom of the fifth when CIAA Player of the Year and the NCAA’s leading run producer, senior Tricia Gorman, ripped a base-hit through the left side that scored Allie Kolezynski and tied it at 2-2.

That score held until the bottom of the eighth when, with one out, VSU committed an error going for a force-out at second base that advanced Sill to third on the errant throw. Down to their final out two batters later, Allen delivered and Chowan would live to play another game.

Starter Christie Wright surrendered five hits, but Kolezynski earned the win in relief with a scoreless top of the eighth.  At the plate the Hawks banged out a dozen hits, two each for Kolezynski, Hipple, Sill, Allen and sophomore Fahren Munro.

Then came the rematch with Winston-Salem.

As they had in their first meeting, Chowan got on the board first on sophomore Lacey Wildeboer’s double down the right field line in the second inning scored Hipple for a 1-0 Hawks advantage.

It was 1-1 in the sixth when Wildeboer delivered again, this time with a floater that dropped into right field and scored pinch-runner Katie Duncan from third only to see WSSU tie it in their half of the frame, but avoid further damage when Chowan made a dazzling shortstop-to-home-to-third double play.

A scoreless seventh set up the eighth inning drama: the Rams had trouble fielding a Wildeboer pop-fly but got the force-out at second base. Mindy Byrd then doubled to put both runners in scoring position.

Allen singled to score Wildeboer with Chowan’s go-ahead run for the third time in the game. Kolezynski next reached on a fielder’s choice that forced Allen out, but scored Byrd. Munro followed by beating out a grounder and a throwing error had runners at second and third.

With the score 4-2, Gorman stepped up next and instead of putting her on with first base open, Winston-Salem pitched to the leading run producer in America and she made them pay: a solid single to the left-field wall scored another pair and a 6-2 Chowan lead seemed to signal a second game.

But WSSU had other ideas: a one-out single into left with two on plated a pair to make it, 6-4.

Balduf then made a pitching change, sending Amber Matthews to the rubber, but she walked the bases full and on a grounder to second, Kolezynski bobbled it, scoring a run and it was now 6-5.

Matthews got a strikeout, but the bases remained loaded. The next batter hit a rocket toward short, but the normally sure-handed Munro couldn’t field it cleanly and it bounced off the heel of her glove into left field.

Two runs scored, and a stunned Chowan crowd watched in horror as Winston-Salem’s improbable comeback won the Rams their first CIAA title since 2000

“My seniors played solid softball from the first inning of their careers to the last,” said Balduf. “This will hurt for a couple of days and then it’s time to get busy again.”

“We went out battling,” said Gorman, who ended her career driving in more runs (84) than anyone in college softball to date and, along with Munro, made the All-Tournament team. “I couldn’t ask for a better last game for my career.”

“‘One team, one dream’ has been our motto this year,” said Megan Wade, “we’d pulled out a lot of comebacks but this one was not to be.”

Chowan finished the season 34-19.