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Panthers Beat Choctaws in Regional Opener

Cindy Rieber

The fourth-ranked Florida Tech Panthers played host to No. 25 Mississippi College on Thursday, in the opening game of the NCAA Division II South Region 2 Tournament and came away with a 5-2 victory at Nancy Bottge Field in Melbourne, Florida.

This team surprises me every day,” said Panthers coach Val Silvestrini after the win. “The things they accomplish are amazing. We knew that we were gonna face a really tough team and

The Panthers who were off since winning the Sunshine State Conference title on April 26th picked up their 10th straight victory and their 40th overall of the 2019 season. They finished the day with 12 hits, as Xiarysse Emerenciana, Shanysse Emerenciana, and Mikayla Wessel had two hits apiece.

“We all do our part, and we all do our jobs,” said Wessel. “No hot is too small and everyone is able to contribute. As long as you put the ball in play, you did your job.”

It was a good game for us to start the tournament,” said Panthers head coach Val Silvestrini. “We put pressure on their defense, every single inning we had runners on base. It was a great start.”

Melanie Murphy (23-5) was dominant in the circle. She allowed four hits in her complete-game effort, striking out nine without walking a batter.

“We didn’t do a good job making our adjustments,” said Mississippi College coach Brooke O’Hair, when asked about Murphy. “I think we’re a better hitting team than what we showed today, we just weren’t quite prepared for the off-speed pitches. Timing is big in hitting, and we didn’t do a great job getting our timing down on her.”

“Coach A (Amanda Haverman) did a really good job of calling pitches and making them off-balance,” said Murphy. “After the first time through she changed one pitch that I throw, she added one in, and I think it kept them off-balance because they didn’t really know what I was throwing the whole game.”

Mississippi College did manage a run in the first inning, on an RBI single from Kristen Qualls. The Panthers would answer in the bottom of the frame against Gulf South Conference Pitcher of the Year Cori Cooper. Cheyenne Nelson, Xiaryssse Emerernciana, and Jaden Kline all singled to start the inning. Unfortunately, Nelson tried to score on the Kline single and was thrown out at the plate. Vanessa Rubio would come up next and put together a great at-bat that saw her fight back from on 0-2 start, fouling off a handful of pitches, before knocking Emerenciana in with a single.

“We have trust in our coaches and trust in each other,” said Panthers’ third baseman Melinda Rule. “Trust that if you’re not able to perform, the person behind you is gonna be right there to pick you up. We always stress playing Florida Tech softball and knowing that we just need to go out and play the way we know how to play.”

The Panthers hopes for more were thwarted when Cooper got Tina Velazquez to roll into a 4-2-3 double-play with the bases loaded.

After Murphy struck out two in the second inning, Florida Tech picked up another run when Rule hit a ball to right field that Choctaws Kayla Murphy made a diving attempt on, only to see it go by her and to the wall. Rule was on her horse, and beat the throw home, giving her an inside-the-park home run and giving the Panthers a 2-1 lead.

Tina Velazquez Donny Rieber Jr | Sports Lowdown

After Shanysse Emerenciana kept the Panthers third inning alive with a bloop single, Velazquez atoned for that double play ball in a big way, as she took Cooper deep over the left-center field wall for her 6th home run of the year, putting the Panthers up 4-1.

Mississippi College (38-15) would get a run back in the top of the fourth. Morgan Bradford tripled and came home on a sacrifice fly off the bat of Brianna Caldwell.

The final run of the game came in the bottom of the fifth, starting with a Shanysse Emerenciana single. She stole second and came home on an RBI groundout by Victoria Szrom. Murphy would retire five of the final six batters she faced, giving the Panthers their first regional win since 2015.

For more info: Mississippi College @ Florida Tech Box Score (NCAA South Region II)

The Panthers will face Alabama Huntsville, who took down Saint Leo on Thursday, 6-2. First pitch of that game will be at 10:00 a.m.

“We’re going to play our game,” said Silvestrini. “We know that we’re gonna play good teams, but we play good teams all season long. We’re gonna show up and play our best and hope the opponent plays their best, so we can be better than them.”