SALEM, Va. — In TWU’s opening game of the NCAA Division II national tournament Friday, Kendra Sancet’s deep shot to right-center field in the sixth inning looked as if it would give TWU the lift it needed to take down slugging leader Humboldt State.
But Sancet’s drive was slowed by strong, inward-blowing Virginia winds and missed leaving the field by inches, clanging off the wall for one of the longest singles TWU has hit all season.
With one runner aboard for Sancet, a home run would have given the Pioneers a 4-3 lead, but instead the Lumberjacks rode two home runs and hung on for a 4-2 victory.
“I thought it was going out, honestly, but she got a good bat on the ball,” said Lizzy Kelly, whose two-run double in the fifth drew the Pioneers to within a run at 3-2. “With the wind blowing in, it didn’t help her. We are kind of used to it in the outfield. At our field back at home we get a lot of wind, so we get used to blowing out and the wind changing to blowing in.”
TWU starter Larisa Garcia allowed a two-run home run to Courtney Hiatt in the first inning and a solo home run to Chrissy Stalf in the third.
Hiatt’s blast tied the NCAA single-season record for home runs by a team at 112 — set by Metro State in 2010 — and Stalf’s broke it, as she also tied the single-season individual record with 28.
“We knew playing Texas Woman’s was going to be a tough game,” Humboldt State coach and NFCA Hall of Famer Frank Cheek said. “We have similar records and similar hitters. The difference was when we hit the ball over the fence when the wind was blowing [out] and when they tried to hit the ball over the fence the wind was blowing [in]. The good Lord was on our side.”
Two batters after Stalf’s homer put Humboldt State up 3-0, TWU coach Richie Bruister pulled Garcia from the game in favor of Brandie Lander. Garcia took just her second loss of the season.
“Garcia keeps the ball down and she doesn’t give up a lot of home runs, so we had a good game plan going in,” Bruister said. “She just got the ball up, missing pitches, and they made her pay for it. Every missed pitch they got. They are a good hitting team and they made us pay for it. We made some adjustments, and Brandie came in and threw lights-out. We had a good game plan; it just sometimes doesn’t work out.”
Lander held the fort for the Pioneers until their offense broke through in the fifth after getting several runners on base in the early innings against freshman pitcher Katie Obbema.
“She made some great pitches early in the game,” Bruister said of Obbema. “We had opportunities, with them making a couple of errors and we had two people on with nobody out. Not scoring — you have to attribute that to her making good pitches. She was jamming us, and we didn’t make the adjustment early in the game.”
Kelly ended TWU’s scoring drought in the fifth with a two-run double to the gap in left-center that scored Bailey Vrazel, who went 2-for-3, and Amanda Ruiz. TWU had lined into a double play to start the inning.
Vrazel led off the seventh with a single and worked her way around to third, but Katie Hines struck out for the second time to end the game.
“We came out a little tight, which is normal in a big game like this, and we just had some nerves going,” Bruister said. “I was excited; we got to playing our ball about the fourth or fifth inning and you got to see our offense come alive.”
The game had been scheduled for Thursday night but was postponed because of rain. The loss was the first for the Pioneers (51-13) in the postseason, and the four runs were most allowed by TWU since they beat Midwestern State 10-7 in the second game of the Lone Star Conference tournament.
At 1:30 p.m. today, TWU will face Grand Valley State (44-8), which was upset 3-1 by Kutztown (35-21) on Thursday.
Last year’s national champion, Valdosta State, emerged from the losers bracket.
“We’ll go to work [Friday night] now that we know who we are playing,” Bruister said. “We’ll spend some time back at the hotel getting the game plan ready to go, and we’re just going to come out and play softball one pitch at a time.”
PATRICK HAYSLIP can be reached at 940-566-6873 and via Twitter at @PatrickHayslip.
Humboldt State 4, TWU 2
WP — Katie Obbema (28-3). LP — Larisa Garcia (18-2). 2B — H: Sarah Fox. T: Lizzy Kelly. HR — H: Chrissy Stalf, Courtney Hiatt.
NCAA Division II Tournament
AT THE JAMES I. MOYER COMPLEX
Game 1: Central Oklahoma 5, Armstrong 2
Game 2: Molloy 5, Valdosta St. 4 (8)
Game 3: Kutztown 3, Grand Valley St. 1
Game 4: Humboldt St. 4, TWU 2
Game 5: Central Oklahoma 7, Molloy 1
Game 6: Kutztown 1, Humboldt St. 0
Game 7: Armstrong vs.Valdosta State, 11 a.m.
Game 8: Grand Valley St. vs. TWU, 1:30 p.m.
Game 9: Winner Game 7 vs. Humboldt St., 4 p.m.
Game 10: Winner Game 8 vs. Molloy, 6:30 p.m.
Game 11: Central Oklahoma vs. Winner Game 9, 11 a.m. (If the winner of Game 9 wins Game 11, Game 13 will be played at 4 p.m.
Game 12: Kutztown vs. Winner Game 10, 1:30 p.m. (If the winner of Game 10 wins Game 12, Game 14 will be played at 6:30 p.m.)
If only one if necessary game is needed, it will be played at 5 p.m.
Championship game, 11 a.m.