Mount Berry, Georgia – The Transylvania softball team broke in its first trip to the NCAA Tournament in seven years with a 4-1 victory over the Emory & Henry College Wasps Friday morning at Kay Williams Field.
The Pioneers' record on the year stands at 32-11 after winning the first game of the Mount Berry regional, hosted by Berry College.
Transylvania now looks ahead to a Saturday winners' bracket game at 11:00 a.m. against the winner of this afternoon's regional matchup between Thomas More College and Berry College.
A powerful unleashing of offense over the latter half of the game coupled with dynamite pitching from junior pitcher Renae Morton guided the Pioneers to the program's first NCAA Tournament victory in seven years.
Friday morning's game pitted Transylvania, the regular-season and tournament champions of the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference, versus an at-large bid recipient out of the Old Dominion Athletic Conference in Emory & Henry.
Originally planned for a 1:00 p.m. Friday start, the regional opener was bumped up to a 9:30 a.m. first pitch to account for impending weather patterns. While the Pioneers' bats slowly awakened through the morning hours, pitching and defense were chipper and alert from the get-go.
The first two innings were rather innocuous for both sides as the Pioneers went hitless against the Wasps and their starting pitcher Emily Kendrick.
Morton, meanwhile was sharp and accurate, allowing just one hit over the first two innings.
The first salvo of the day was issued by Emory & Henry in the top of the third inning, as Ragan Halsey led off with a single, and a sacrifice bunt by Jordan Chrisley moved the leadoff hitter to second base. The Wasps went on top, 1-0 on a double from Leah Elswick that brought home Halsey. Morton and the Pioneers shut down the rest of the inning with a strikeout and by picking off Elswick, who was caught in between first and second in a sticky situation.
Moving back to the top of the batting order in the bottom of the fourth inning, the Pioneers took sudden control of the contest and turned it in their favor for the rest of the day. With one out and the Pioneers still laboring for their first hit of the day, sophomore outfielder Shelby Gambrell placed down a bunt along the first-base line and sprinted to first to win a critical race.
Two key moments followed as senior infielder Shelby Bailey hit a hard chopper towards Emory & Henry's shortstop that appeared to be a sure out at second. Instead, a mishandled flip glanced away from the Wasps' second baseman and skipped into center field, allowing Gambrell to round her way to third base and place runners on the corners.
Transylvania made Emory & Henry pay the ultimate price as freshman designated player Sydney Motell launched a home run to deep left center field to put the Pioneers ahead 3-1, a lead they would hold onto for the rest of the day.
Morton did the rest from the circle, allowing just two more baserunners from the fourth inning on as she claimed her 18th victory of the season, and her ninth consecutive complete-game victory in her last nine starts.
Both the Pioneers and Wasps tallied five hits for the day, with four of Transy's five hits coming in innings four and five.
Morton tallied six strikeouts for the day with no walks, and was charged for one earned run in the victory.
Following Friday's victory, the Pioneers' winning streak grew to eight games dating back to the end of the regular season, their longest consecutive streak of the season.
Transylvania now looks ahead to the winner's bracket game against either Berry, the No. 2 ranked team in the NFCA Top 25 poll, or Thomas More College, their Bluegrass neighbors up Interstate 71 in a Northern Georgia meeting on Saturday morning.
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