The University of Lynchburg entered Saturday’s NCAA Division III Super Regional needing just one win to earn a trip to the national championships in Tyler, Texas.
But Emory University’s bats blocked the road at every turn.
Saturday’s conclusion of the best-of-three series looked like it would be over quickly. Lynchburg’s early lead signaled the Hornets intended to sweep the series after winning the first game Friday.
Instead, fans were treated to a Moon Field marathon.
Emory earned a come-from-behind 9-5 win to tie the series in the afternoon, then bounced back from an early deficit a few hours later for a 10-8 victory.
It wasn’t easy. Lynchburg, in fact, nearly walked off with the series. Down 10-6 in the bottom of the seventh in the finale, the Hornets (37-15) struck twice and loaded the bases with two outs. Nine-hole hitter Carol Oberhelman then blasted a line drive, but hit it directly at Emory second baseman Sarah Katz to give Emory the series win.
Eagles shortstop Cassie Baca, named the series’ most outstanding player, had a good view of the final play.
“The minute you just see the look on her face and see her glove go up, Sarah’s an awesome second baseman, and you just get ready to go and start celebrating with your team,” Baca said, “because the minute she’s lined up, you know she’s gonna make that play.”
Baca particularly bruised Lynchburg on Saturday. The senior went 2 for 3 with three RBIs in the afternoon opener, a game in which the Eagles scored seven runs in the top of the sixth to erase what had been a 3-2 Lynchburg lead and go up 9-3.
Baca then went 3 for 4 with four RBIs in the deciding game and drilled a two-run single to center that gave Emory some insurance and a 9-6 lead in the sixth.
Combined, Saturday’s two games featured a total of 32 runs, 40 hits, seven errors and 17 walks.
The teams combined for 41 runs and 62 hits in the entire series.
The Hornets enjoyed a big inning of their own in the final game of the series, busting loose for six runs in the second inning to take a 6-1 lead. It wouldn’t last.
The Eagles (36-12) whittled away at the deficit, scoring twice in the fourth, three times in both the fifth and sixth and once in the seventh off a home run by Mattie Ryan.
“Our team fought hard all day, as they had done all season,” Lynchburg coach Dawn Simmons said. “I’m proud of them. They never gave up.”
Lynchburg senior catcher Brittany Coffey pounded out five hits and had five RBIs on the day, going 2 for 4 with a home run in the day’s opening game and 3 for 4 in the finale.
“We’re in a do-or-die situation here,” Coffey said when asked about the offensive production for both Emory and Lynchburg. “We had to fight hard. The motto the whole game was ‘Lay it all out, big hearts.’ I think that’s what we did.”
Alex Cisar (16-5) pitched a total of 11 innings, throwing 6 1/3 and taking the loss in Saturday’s first game and then returning to fire off 4 2/3 innings in the evening.
It seemed like every pitcher in the circle had to deal with blazing bats; the entire day featured just six strikeouts.
“Everybody was tired and everybody was giving everything they had on both teams,” Simmons added.
Emory won the hit battle, with 11 in Saturday’s opener and 14 more in the rubber match.
In the finale, the Eagles clung to a 10-6 lead in the bottom of the seventh. Sophomore Madison Schaefer took the circle after the Hornets loaded the bases with no outs.
Schaefer forced two straight groundouts that brought home two UL runs to make it 10-8, but then walked Kortney Leazer to load the bases again.
That brought Oberhelman to the plate. The ball rocketed off the junior’s bat and could have tied the score had it gotten into the outfield. But Katz had the liner played perfectly.
Asked about that frame, Simmons said her team “refused to lose.”
Emory advances to the eight-team national championships in Tyler, Texas. The Eagles face Randolph-Macon, which beat Christopher Newport in Newport News twice Saturday and earned a 3-1 series-clinching win in the nightcap.
Lynchburg first baseman Mackenzie Chitwood played in her final game as a Hornet and went 2 for 4 with two RBIs in the opener. She hit .382 on the season with 21 home runs to help UL to its best season since 2008, the only other year the squad made a super regional appearance.
“I take it all in,” Chitwood said when asked about the day, “and I’m gonna grow and be a better person from it. Playing this game growing up, I’ve loved it, and I’ve loved it forever, and I doubt I’ll ever get away from it.”
The 2019 season was also memorable for another reason: It was the year Simmons picked up her 600th career victory.
“I think they’re a heck of a ballclub,” Emory coach Adrianna Baggetta said of UL. “They battled all the way through. It was hard-fought, both games, all day long. All three games, actually. So I tip my hat to them, but our team, I think we will always continue to battle.”