UNG softball wins sixth straight PBC Tourney
The road to the University of North Georgia softball team’s sixth straight Peach Belt Conference tournament championship was filled with heart-pounding excitement, a bit of anxiety and a host of dramatic clutch moments for the Nighthawks when they hosted the conference tournament at Haines and Carolyn Hill Stadium on Friday and Saturday, May 3-4.
The top-seeded Nighthawks needed a few late-inning rallies to climb their way to the top of the PBC during the tournament to earn their sixth PBC tournament championship in as many years.
North Georgia began the tournament versus an upset-minded UNC Pembroke team on Friday, May 3.
The Braves took an early 1-0 lead in the top of the first inning versus UNG starting pitcher Kylee Smith, the PBC’s Pitcher of the Year, and the Nighthawks when they were able to plate an unearned run off a sacrifice fly to right field.
North Georgia answered right back with a run of its own in the bottom half of the frame when PBC Player of the Year Marley Stowers scored a run off an error.
UNC Pembroke took no time in getting the lead back, as the Braves launched a lead-off home run in the top of the second to retake the lead 2-1.
The Nighthawks’ lineup struggled against Braves starter Malerie Leviner over the course of the next few innings and trailed UNC Pembroke 2-1 going into the bottom of the fifth.
Leviner’s control over the Nighthawks’ lineup faded and North Georgia put together a three-run inning to take a 4-2 advantage. The late-inning rally began with a one-out double to centerfield by Stowers. Kaylee Womack knocked Stowers in with a RBI single to center that evened the score at 2-2. A ground out off the bat of Katie Collins moved Womack into scoring position.
UNG head softball coach Mike Davenport, the PBC’s Coach of the Year, made a base running move and substituted in Katelyn Perry to run for Womack.
Lexi Duncan followed with a infield single that gave the Nighthawks runners on the corners with two outs.
Kali Turner came in to pinch hit for North Georgia and delivered a clutch two-run double to center, scoring Perry and Duncan, to give UNG a 4-2 lead. The rally was finally squashed by the Braves when relief pitcher Raygan Larson got Shelby Hammontree to ground out to third base, but the damage had been done.
It looked as if the Nighthawks had gotten the upper hand in the game, but the Braves charged right back in the top of the sixth with a three-run inning of their own. UNC Pembroke’s Alyssa Price jacked a three-run home run over the wall in left centerfield to help the Braves retake the lead at 5-4.
Down to their final six outs, the Nighthawks knew that time was running out and once again went on a comeback, late-inning rally to plate three more runs in the bottom of the sixth. Stowers got the scoring started with a RBI double down the right field line. Womack scored another UNG run with a RBI single up the middle and Duncan scored the Nighthawks’ third run of the inning when she blasted a single to right center to score Womack.
The rally gave North Georgia a 7-5 advantage going into the final inning.
After allowing a lead-off double to right, Smith finished off the game and sealed the Nighthawks’ victory with three consecutive strikeouts.
Smith improved to 25-2 on the season with the win. The sensational talent allowed five runs, four earned, off eight hits in her seven innings of work. Smith, who leads the nation in strikeouts, recorded 11 strikeouts against the Braves.
Stowers, Womack and Duncan each connected for two hits in the North Georgia victory.
While the Nighthawks defeated UNC Pembroke with their sixth-inning comeback, seventh-seeded Georgia Southwestern upset second-seeded Columbus State, third-seeded Young Harris earned a walk-off win over sixth-seeded Francis Marion and fourth-seeded Flagler took down fifth-seeded Georgia College during quarterfinal action at the tournament.
The victory over the Braves advanced the Nighthawks to a semifinal matchup against the Flagler Saints on Saturday, May 4.
North Georgia struck first versus Flagler, plating a run in the first inning off a RBI fielder’s choice by Katie Collins to take a 1-0 advantage.
In the second inning, the Nighthawks benefitted from a Saints error to double their lead to 2-0. Olivia Sinquefield displayed sensational awareness, speed and base running when she was able to score from second base on a fly out.
The score remained in North Georgia’s favor until the Saints’ Anna Dumovich evened the score at 2-2 with a monster two-run home run in the fifth inning.
However, two Nighthawk runs in the sixth inning allowed UNG to retake the lead at 4-2. Hammontree plated a run with a sacrifice bunt and Cheyanne Mosteller plated another UNG run with a sacrifice fly.
With the heart of their order due up in the final inning, the Saints hoped to get the better of Smith and even the score. However, Smith would prove why she was named PBC Pitcher of the Year and recorded two strikeouts to end the game.
The win marked the 41st of the year for the Nighthawks and number 26 for Smith, improving her record to 26-2. Smith went the distance, pitching seven strong innings. Smith allowed two runs in the game while striking out 11.
The 4-2 victory advanced the Nighthawks to the PBC championship game versus Georgia Southwestern (GSW) later that evening.
Neither lineup could figure out the opposition’s starting pitcher in the first three innings of the championship game. Smith continued to dazzle on the mound for the Nighthawks and GSW starting pitcher Shannon Gibson kept North Georgia hitless through the first three innings.
The deadlock was finally broken when GSW’s Chloe Zoeller connected for an infield single with the bases loaded to give the Hurricanes a 1-0 advantage. Smith was able to get out of the jam with an inning-ending strikeout.
Trailing 1-0 headed to the bottom of the fifth, the Nighthawks received some clutch hitting which allowed them to score twice and take a 2-1 lead over GSW.
Collins got the inning started for North Georgia when she blasted a bomb over the fence in right field to even the score at 1-1. Later in the inning, Hammontree connected for a RBI single to right center that scored Sinquefield from second. Hammontree’s clutch hit gave North Georgia a 2-1 lead.
The Nighthawks added one more run in the bottom of the sixth. Womack started the inning off with a lead-off single to right. Kelly Kahlert came in to pinch run for Womack and advanced to third base after a walk to Collins and an error by the Hurricanes’ catcher. Collins moved to second on the error by the catcher to give North Georgia runners at second and third with no outs. Turner came in as a pinch hitter for Duncan, but struck out for the first out of the inning. With two runners in scoring position, Sinquefield smacked a hard hit ball to the shortstop. GSW’s shortstop decided to try for the runner going home, but Kahlert was called safe by the home plate umpire. The unearned run gave the Nighthawks a 3-1 advantage. The Hurricanes were able to get out of the inning with consecutive strikeouts of Hammontree and Mosteller.
Smith induced a ground out to GSW’s lead off batter to start the final inning. After a walk, Smith then induced another groundout before striking out the next batter to seal the victory for North Georgia.
Smith recorded her third complete game of the PBC tournament and improved her record to 27-2. Smith pitched seven solid innings, allowing a run off five hits while striking out 12 GSW batters.
North Georgia was outhit 5-4 by the Hurricanes in the game, but were able to take advantage and plate runs when they needed to in order to earn its sixth straight PBC tournament championship.
The Nighthawks have played in 11 of the last 12 PBC Tournament Championship games and are 9-2 in those games.
Stowers was named the tournament’s MVP and Smith, Collins and Duncan were each selected as members of the All-Tournament team.
The win improved the Nighthawks’ record to 42-11 and earned UNG an automatic bid into the NCAA Division II Southeast Regional to be hosted by North Georgia.
The NCAA Division II Southeast Regional will begin at Haines & Carolyn Hill Stadium on Thursday, May 9, and will run until Saturday, May 11. Check ungathletics.com for a complete schedule of games.