The Maryville College Scots couldn't fight off a comeback from Salem College in the first game of the day, 4-3, but MC held on for a 9-5 win in game two to earn the program's first-ever USA South Tournament Crown.
The title marks only the second of its kind for MC and their first in 16 years, as Maryville claimed the 2002 Great South Athletic Conference Championship.
"It means everything," Head Coach Leah Kelley said. "It's not just about this team. It's about every team before. Success is not happening overnight. Every alumni should be proud. This team should be proud – they deserve it. This program deserves this."
The title earns Maryville's third NCAA Appearance in school history, as it's the first national tournament appearance in 11 years.
The Scots advanced to the NCAA's in both 2002 and 2007.
"That's what you strive for – to get to the next tournament, the next game, the next round," senior Rachel Taylor said. "To be able to do it with this group of girls, I mean, it's beyond crazy. Our goal at the beginning of the year was to win the regular season. Then, it was to win the championship. Now, it's just to keep winning. Survive and advance is the name of the game now."
Maryville will learn their destination for the NCAA Tournament on Monday, May 7 with the selection show.
The Regionals will be held May 11-13, in a double-elimination format. Should the team advance, the Super Regionals will be May 18-19.
"We started the season, and we always talked pitch-by-pitch," freshman pitcher Katlyn Smith. "That's how we had to get there. We did that here. We were down, and we went pitch-by-pitch and took care of our at bats. Knowing that we can do that is something to build on from here."
Smith was named the tournament's Most Valuable Player for her efforts, as the freshman closed the door on Salem in game two.
"Getting an MVP in a conference tournament out of 19 teams – and a freshman getting that – that's pretty significant," Kelley said. "That's a huge statement to her and what she's able to do in big moments. When it comes crunch time, she steps up for us. It's a pretty awesome felling as a coach when you have a freshman being an MVP of a conference tournament. She's so mature on the mound, and nothing shakes this kid. Nothing shakes her."
Smith tallied 28.1 innings over the tournament, as she fanned 39 of the 124 batters she faced. The reigning USA South Rookie Pitcher of the Year allowed just 13 hits over that time and three earned runs for a 0.74 ERA.
"Honestly, coming into this tournament was just a great feeling in the first place," Smith said. "Just to win the regular season and do that, and then, to come in here and pitch against some of these teams I hadn't seen yet, it's a big accomplishment for me. Having the confidence behind me from my coaches and players, it was a lot of help for me to get this award. I couldn't have done it without the confidence that everyone had behind me."
Smith tallied 15 wins inside the circle this season, as Monday's USA South Championship breaks an MC school record.
The Scots won their 29th victory of the year to lift the trophy, as it breaks the 15-year record set back in 2003.
"It was unbelievable," Taylor said, as she came out of her freshman year with only 14 wins. "Just to see how far we've made it in four years – Coach and I are really the only original ones. To pull it off in four years and to go out with a bang, I can't think of a better way to end my senior year. I give major props to every single player on this team. It wasn't just me. It was a team effort. I kind of just fell, because I didn't know what else to do to tell the honest truth. It was just a surreal moment."
Taylor was a part of the Women's Soccer USA South Championship her first semester at MC, as she closes out her career with a Softball Championship in her final semester in the Orange and Garnet.
"It's a cool way to start and end my college career, to say the least," she said.
Maryville struck first, as Strambler blasted her sixth dinger of the season. The left-fielder fouled off four pitches, before she found the one she wanted to center. White scored on the play, as the Scots led 2-0.
Salem would tack on four in the bottom of the inning, however, as Montana Linberger scored on Amanda Dacunto's RBI single to left. Brittany Morton would go yard for a three-run shot to score Dacunto and Brianna Morris for a 4-2 Spirits lead after one.
"Salem is a great team," Kelley said. "They're a great team, and we knew this was going to be a battle. They came out on fire. They came out hitting the ball, and they came out making plays. Their outfield made outstanding plays all day. They took that first game, and that's ok. We came back in the second game, and Katlyn stepped up for us. Casey [Joliff] stepped up for us. She had great innings, and Katlyn came back in and finished it up for us. We scored enough runs for Katlyn to relax a little bit and go right at their hitters. All around – offense, defense, everybody – played great."
Ashton Hayden singled to lead-off the third, before Brewer could follow Strambler's example. Brewer lofted a two-run shot to left to knot things at four-all.
Smith would pitch around some sticky situations to keep the Scots alive, as Maryville tallied a four-run inning in the sixth. RBI by Christen Torres and Sarah Gordon scored Taylor and Alexus Murray, as Aly Snider's RBI singled plated Torres. Gordon would score on a fielding error to make it a 8-4 game going to the final inning.
Gordon added an RBI with a single to short in the seventh to score pinch runner Nicole Blackburn for the 9-5 final.
Maryville (29-12) was led by Gordon who went 3-for-4 with a pair of RBI and a run. Murray was 2-for-4 with a run, as eight other Scots recorded one-hit afternoons.
GAME ONE: Salem College 4, Maryville College 3
Salem College would strike in the bottom of the first inning, as freshman pitcher Katlyn Smith tossed 40 pitches in the stanza. Miranda Barker doubled to left-center to score Lineberger from second, before a wild pitch would allow Morris to score from third later on for a 2-0 Sprits lead.
MC fought back in the top of the fourth, as Strambler was able to score on a fielding error. Strambler had singled earlier in the inning, as the Scots cut the lead to 2-1.
In the seventh, a pair of base-running errors would hinder the Scots. Maryville took the lead, 3-2, before an MC runner thought the game was over on Christina White's two-RBI single up the middle. Hayden and Joliff scored on the play, before the runner was picked off to end the inning.
Salem loaded the bases in the bottom of the seventh, aided by a pair of errors – one on a sacrifice bunt. Madison Burch drew a bases-loaded walk to score Barker, as Addison York would walk it off with an RBI single to center. The Spirits took game one, 4-3.