TIFFIN – After recording her fourth strikeout of the day, Heidelberg University pitcher Paige Atterholt slammed down her glove and jumped into the arms of catcher Mikaela Mitsch. Atterholt, Mitsch and the rest of the Student Princes had won the 2015 Ohio Athletic Conference Tournament and clinched a berth in the NCAA Tournament.
Heidelberg (30-8) defeated Ohio Northern (24-14), 9-3, thanks in large part to a monstrous fifth inning.
In the first inning, Heidelberg took the lead with an unearned run on a bobbled ground ball.
The Student Princes added a pair in the second off of OAC Pitcher of the Year Kirsten Lightel. Haylee Patel singled to start, then slid in ahead of the throw on a fielder's choice sacrifice bunt by Randi Kelsey. Taylor Hicks moved the runners with a sacrifice of her own. Renee Lovett followed with a groundout to short which allowed Patel to cross the plate. Next, Marissa Smego muscled a bloop single to center, scoring Kelsey.
The runs gave Heidelberg a 3-0 lead, the same lead they held – then lost – in Saturday's Game 6 loss to the Polar Bears. At the start of the fourth, it looked like ONU was poised to reprise their feat from a day ago. Two singles put runners on the corners with no out with the 3-4-5 batters due up for ONU. Gia Saturday smoked a one-hopper to HU shortstop Kayla Zachrich, who started a 6-4-3 double play. ONU scored on the play, but the twin-killing limited the Polar Bears to one run in the inning.
In the fifth, Ohio Northern closed the gap again with a run on an RBI single by pinch hitter Tessa Topp.
Clinging to a 3-2 lead, Heidelberg erupted in the fifth. Back to back doubles to left center by Mitsch and Zachrich brought in two. After she hit Kyleah Brey with a pitch, Lightel was removed for the first time in the tournament. After recording the first out of the inning, Paige Ordean plunked Kelsey in the foot to load the bases.
The runs kept coming for Heidelberg as the lineup rolled to the top of the order. Hicks slapped a single to left, plating Patel and pinch runner Kendall Queen. After a walk to Lovett, Smego gave Heidelberg a 9-2 lead with a two-run single down the right field line.
Though the Student Princes were unable to push their lead over the mercy-rule threshold, the No. 1 seed was in complete control.
The No. 3 seed Polar Bears scratched a run across in the seventh, but Atterholt slammed the door with the punchout of Megan Hupp.
Smego had three hits and three RBI on the day. She was named to the All-Tournament team along with Atterholt, McKee and Hicks. Atterholt allowed three runs (one earned) on seven hits in the clincher. The win gave her sole possession of the single season wins mark, passing Lexie Pinkelman's 2011 campaign. She is one win shy of tying the career record of 31 wins, set by Jacy Burdett (97-02).
Head coach Betsy Hada and her team will learn about their regional site and opponent during Monday's selection show on NCAA.com, scheduled for a 10 a.m. start. A viewing party will be held on campus in The Fox Den Alumni Center at Hoernemann Stadium.