The fourth-ranked Florida Tech Panthers pulled off another big win on Friday, beating the 16th-ranked Alabama-Huntsville Chargers 6-4 in game three of the NCAA Division II South Region 2 Tournament.
“This game was a battle,” said Panthers head coach Val Silvestrini. “That’s one of the best offenses we’ve faced all year. I’m really proud of our team, we had timely hits and a great pitching performance from Melanie (Murphy) and Jordan (Lawlis). This is a great win for our team.”
The Panthers (41-10) have now won 11 straight games and advance to Saturday’s Region 2 title game.
Alabama-Huntsville beat Saint Leo on Thursday to set up this matchup against the Panthers, who beat Mississippi College on Thursday. The Chargers came into the tournament as the third seed and are making the 17th consecutive appearance in the regionals.
Murphy, who went the distance in Thursday’s 5-2 win over Mississippi College got the start on Friday morning, She was facing a potent Chargers lineup, who came into the game averaging .344 and had a scoring average of better than seven runs a game. Those numbers dipped a bit after Friday.
Alabama-Huntsville (39-16) struck first in the second inning against Murphy, with Kiara Akles reaching on a dropped fly ball. She went to second on the play and later came home on a double off the top of the center field wall by Mackenzie Nutt. Nutt would score the second run later in the inning on a sac fly by Taylor Wascavage.
“That’s happened a lot with us this season, we get behind and then bounce back,” said Murphy. “As a pitcher, I’m not really as concerned because I know my team has my back and I know they are gonna play just as hard. We don’t really change our mindset when we’re under pressure because that’s when we play our best, that’s when we play Florida Tech softball.”
The Panthers would get things going offensively in the third inning. Melinda Rule walked and went to third after Mikayla Wessel reached on an error. After Wessel stole second, Cheyenne Nelson hit a ball 20 feet up the first base line and beat the throw to first. That allowed Rule to score and moved Wessel to third.
With Xiarysse Emerenciana at the plate, coach Silvestrini called for a double steal and pulled it off with Nelson stealing second and Wessel scoring the run that tied the game 2-2.
Silvestrini was asked what goes through her mind when she calls for that double steal. “I have no idea what goes through my mind,” she said with a laugh. “I know we have to take risks and I know if they throw us out we’re pushing and we’re trying to do things to score. I had a gut feeling that was going to work and when it works, that makes me look good.”
The Panthers would get a third run in the inning when Jaden Kline, who had a 3-for-3 day hit one up the middle that went off the second base bag and into center, giving the Panthers a one-run lead.
“There’s no reason to put more pressure on ourselves than there already is,” said Kline. “I was thinking see ball, hit ball. I can’t think too much because that’s when things kinda go crazy.”
Florida Tech would get another run in the bottom of the fourth. Shanysse Emerenciana walked and went to second on a wild pitch. She got to third on a Tina Velazquez groundout and came home on a sac fly by Victoria Szrom, making it a 4-2 game.
Szrom would come through again in the sixth inning with an RBI double that brought Shanysse Emerenciana home. The Panthers would tack on one more, on an RBI single from Rule. Those runs would be key because the Chargers did not go away quietly.
Reagan Malone singled to start the seventh and Wascavage hit one that was not handled cleanly, allowing Malone to get to second and Wascavage to first. An infield single by Shannon Long loaded the bases, and Ashley Cornell proceeded to hit one down the line in left, scoring two and cutting the Panthers lead to 6-4.
That was the end of the day for Murphy, who went six-plus innings, facing four batters in the seventh. Only one of the four runs she allowed was earned. She walked one batter and did not record a strikeout.
“My pitches weren’t the best today, but I tried to keep moving the ball as best as I could, and not having my best day I lasted six innings for my team and they were able to do the rest.”
Lawlis came in with two runners on and Shelby Booker got down a sacrifice that put the tying runs at second and third. Lawlis would get a huge strikeout of Amber Hammonds, before getting Akles to fly out to end the game.
“Honestly, I try not to think about the situation that I’m in,” said Lawlis when asked about coming into the game with runners on. “Every time I go in to pitch, coach Val is always telling me just one pitch at a time, that’s the only thing I try to think about when I’m out there throwing.”
For more info: Alabama-Huntsville @ Florida Tech Box Score
Florida Tech will now play the winner of the Mississippi College and Alabama Huntsville, who are playing this afternoon. The winner of that game will be tasked with beating Florida Tech twice on Saturday, to advance. Florida Tech only needs one win on Saturday to advance. The first pitch Saturday will be at 1:00 p.m.