Thanks to a game-tying homer by freshman Molly McNeill, the ULM softball team provided the early storyline in the Sun Belt Conference tournament after upsetting defending champion Florida Atlantic in the opening round, 5-4, at the Trojan Softball Complex in Troy, Ala. on Wednesday morning.
ULM (20-36) entered the leagues championship as the seventh seed and faced a staunch opening round test in Florida Atlantic (35-25) and second-team all-conference selection Amber Barton.
We never doubted that we wouldn't get the first win, ULM softball head coach Rosemary Holloway-Hill said. It is hard to come back from behind as late as it was. This win is a testament to our team. It sets us up for a good tournament because our team knows we can overcome anything. It was just an awesome team effort.
The Warhawks fell behind early when Barton took an offering from ULM starter Kandace Causey (ND) over the wall in left centerfield. Senior Calli Baker made a leaping stab at the ball only to see it bounce off the tip of her glove for the early 1-0 lead.
The Warhawks had a chance to tie or take the lead in the fourth inning after loading the bases with only one out. The Owls cut down the lead runner at the plate on a fielders choice before inducing a fly-ball to centerfield to escape the jam.
FAU extended its lead to 3-0 and chased Causey in the fifth inning after plating a pair of runs on two hits and two walks.
inning later, behind McNeills blast and an RBI single by freshman Brianna Love, the Warhawks rallied for a 4-3 lead. Senior Jamie Liles led off the inning with a walk before pinch runner Erica Darden was moved to second on a sacrifice bunt. Freshman Melissa Rivera walked to put runners on first and second before McNeill launched the ball down the leftfield line.
Above: Brianna Love
We said in the huddle that the last two innings would be the best two and all you have to do is believe, Holloway-Hill said. That was about as clutch as you can get from Molly. She has been somewhat injured, but didn't give in and was ready to respond. She came here to play.
Baker reached on an error and advanced to second on a two-out walk by senior Courtney Cleveland before coming home on Love's single.
ULM lead wouldn't last long. FAU?s Blair Bodenmiller led off the frame with a double before advancing to third on a sacrifice bunt. The next batter, Jessica Myers, lined a single through the left side to knot the score at 4-4.
The Warhawks wouldn't give in. Darden got the Warhawks started with a triple down the right field line. A walk to junior Megan Miller and an infield single by McNeill loaded the bases with one out.
Baker lined a Barton offering to centerfield allowing Darden to scamper home under the tag and give the Warhawks a 5-4 lead.
Senior Lindsay Rittenhouse (W, 6-16) allowed a single in the seventh, but retired three straight to earn her 30th career victory.
Playing in her first conference tournament, fifth-year senior Jamie Liles finished with a 2-for-3 performance at the plate including the leadoff single in ULM's big inning. McNeill also went 2-for-3 with the big three run homer.
The Warhawks advance to play the winner of the Troy/North Texas game on Thursday, May 8 at 3 p.m. at the Trojan Softball Complex.