WESTERVILLE, Ohio – For the second straight season, the Heidelberg University softball team is going dancing.
The Student Princes defeated Muskingum University, 4-2, in the sixth game of the Ohio Athletic Conference tournament. Along with the sizeable trophy, The Berg receives the OAC's automatic qualifier into the NCAA tournament. The brackets will be announced on Monday.
With the win, Heidelberg improved to 28-11 on the season. The Student Princes are the first softball team to repeat as OAC tournament champions since the Muskies rattled off a string of 10 in a row from 1998-2007.
OAC TOURNAMENT GAME SIX: No. 4 Heidelberg 4 No. 3 Muskingum 2
Heidelberg jumped out to another quick lead with a run in the top of the first. Taylor Hicks reached on an infield single and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Marissa Smego. Mikaela Mitsch followed with an RBI single to right center, which plated Hicks.
Kyleah Brey started the top of the fourth with a single through the left side. Pinch runner Renee Lovett moved to second on a sac bunt by Haylee Patel and to third on a basehit by Lisa Simmons. She scored on an RBI double to right center by Hicks. Smego followed with a run-scoring single to center that chased Muskingum starter Rachel Eberling from the game. In relief of Eberling, Kristin Gill used a strikeout and a groundout to avoid more damage.
In the bottom of the fifth, HU starter Erin Chapman departed after 4.1 strong innings. We gave way to Paige Atterholt with one out and runners on first and second. After a pop out, a Muskie single plated their first run of the game. The inning ended on a fielder's choice to short, on which Kayla Zachrich made a nifty scoop before throwing to second for the out.
Chapman (13-5) scattered four hits in 4.1 innings, with one strikeout and no walks. With her 13th win, Chapman set a new career high.
A pinch-hit two-out single by Haylea Debolt in the bottom of the sixth drove in the second Muskie run, but again, a 6-4 fielder's choice ended the inning and limited the damage.
Up 3-2 in the top of the seventh, Heidelberg went back up two thanks to a solo home run by Randi Kelsey – her first of the season. Kelsey's blast was her first hit of the tournament – despite hitting the ball well all weekend.
Atterholt worked a 1-2-3 seventh, a line out and ground out to first, followed by a pop up to third. Brey made the grab to end the game, setting of an infield mobbing of joyous Student Princes.
Atterholt worked the final 2.2 innings and picked up the save – the first of her illustrious career.
Heidelberg had 10 hits in the game – with Mitsch tallying three. Mitsch is now hitting .480 on the year.
QUOTES FROM THE COACH
Head coach Betsy Hada on the game: "I thought we really handled our business again. Our approach at the plate and in the field was rock solid. The OAC was loaded with great teams this year ... Today, we were fortunate to beat a terrific group from Muskingum. They really battled for Coach Winters and forced us to be at the top of our game."
Hada on winning the tournament a second time: "Winning the tournament with these girls gives me such a feeling of immense joy ... Last season seemed to be filled with magic and fortune, where this season, we really had to grind out everything. Every player on our team – one through 30 – had a part in this title."
BEYOND THE BOX SCORE
After the game, the All-Tournament Team was announced. Heidelberg's Erin Chapman, Taylor Hicks, Mikaela Mitsch and Abbey McKee earned the honor.
Softball is the first Heidelberg team to repeat as tournament champions since the baseball team won it in 2008-10.
The tournament title was a nice 22nd birthday present for #22, Kayla Zachrich. Zachrich, who has played in and started all 157 games over the past four years, was 1-for-4, but was robbed of extra bases by the left fielder and right fielder.
The Division III Softball Selection Show will air on NCAA.com on Monday at 1 p.m. The Student Princes and three other teams will begin regional tournament action on either Thursday or Friday.
A watch party will be held in the conference room on the second floor of the Saurwein Health & Wellness Center.