The standard remains for the Maryville College softball program, as the Scots claimed their second-straight USA South Athletic Conference Tournament Championship on Sunday afternoon in shutout fashion.
MC defeated Averett University, 5-0, in the championship game in LaGrange, Ga., to earn back-to-back tournament titles for the program.
With Sunday's victory, the Scots earn an automatic bid to the NCAA Division III Softball Regional Tournament in May, as it marks the first time in school history for consecutive trips.
"It's a new standard," Maryville College Head Coach Leah Kelley said. "It's what we do now. We won, and it wasn't as exciting as last year. Now, it's a standard. It's what we do now. It's all about keeping that standard and going to the Regional. That's who we are."
Maryville advanced straight through the tournament after earning a bye in the opening round in LaGrange.
The Scots won three-straight games – one each day – to earn the championship title.
"There's so much excitement," USA South Pitcher of the Year Katlyn Smith said. "We have talked about this day since the season started. It was a standard for us. It was something we had to do, and for us to be out here and do it again, it's so much joy again. All over again."
Averett University played a total of six games in the tournament, including Sunday's championship bout. The Cougars tallied five games over the first two days of action, after the Scots defeated them in the third round.
Maryville's fresh legs played a key role in Sunday's championship, as the Scots struck early on USA South Rookie Pitcher of the Year Hannah Thompson behind Averett errors.
"I'm so thankful that we were able to stay in the winner's bracket and play," senior first baseman Sarah Gordon said. "I know that's hard coming from the loser's bracket. We did it two years ago, and it made it so much better last year and this year, being up there where we didn't have to play [multiple] games every day. We fought this game, and we came out with everything. We gave it our all."
MC's Smith was tabbed the USA South Athletic Conference Tournament MVP in back-to-back seasons, while Gordon was selected to the All-Tournament squad at first. Alexus Murray earned All-Tournament behind the plate, while Ashton Hayden earned the award as an outfielder.
"I think it says a lot about whenever [Smith] came in our program and we started winning championships," Kelley said. "She's just that caliber of a kid. She's just a phenomenal kid, and she works hard day in and day out. It's a kid that does the right thing, and a kid that does the right thing is successful. She deserves this moment, and she deserves leading her team to this victory."
The sophomore hurler pitched 22.0 innings in the tournament, while striking out 20 total batters. She tallied her 300th and 301st career strikeout in Sunday's championship bout.
Smith allowed just 16 hits and three earned runs over the tournament, as her defense played steady behind her.
"Well, it was just a lot of hard work," Smith said of the award. "It's all of us. Having a team there behind me that had confidence in me and having a coach there that had confidence in me, they made sure I had the confidence in myself to be able to do this all again."
Maryville College will learn their destination in the NCAA Regionals on Monday, May 6. Follow mcscots.com and Maryville College Athletics on social media via @MCScots for the latest updates.
"It's an overwhelming feeling, honestly," Gordon said. "It's honestly the best feeling. We've worked so hard this year, and we deserve it."
Maryville College struck first in the bottom of the first inning with a two-out rally. Taylor Campbell singled through left side for the Scots' first hit, as Reid Ballard reached on an Averett error. MC made that extra opportunity turn in their favor with a high shot to left-center by Gordon. The ball found the gap, scoring pinch runner Ashleigh Geary from second for a 1-0 lead.
The Scots added to that lead in the bottom of the second on a pair of errors. Casey Joliff reached on an error, before Hayden singled to short. Pinch runner Christina White advanced to third on the infield single, before Hayden stole second. White scored on an errant throw, before Murray's sacrifice fly to center plated Hayden from third. The duo of unearned runs made the score 3-0.
MC laced back-to-back-to-back singles to add to their lead in the bottom of the fourth. White laced a two-RBI ground rule double to lead off the inning, before Morgan Brewer singled up the middle. Hayden added an RBI with a single to left to plate Brewer from second, before Murray followed suit with an RBI single to left-center. Hayden scored for a 5-0 MC victory.
Maryville College (28-9) was led by Hayden who went 2-for-3 with two runs and an RBI. Murray was 1-for-3 with a pair of RBI, while Gordon was 1-for3 with an RBI. White went 1-for-2 with a run, as Brewer was 1-for-3 with a run. Murray and Essence Strambler each had a hit, as Geary plated a run.
Smith earned her 21st win of the season, tallying her 20th complete game effort. The MVP posted her sixth shutout of the year, while fanning seven. The sophomore gave up just five hits and two walks in the championship.
Averett University (31-16) was led by Thompson who went 2-for-3. Nicole Cauthen also added a 2-for-3 effort, while Lauren Johnston added the Cougars' only other hit.
"We talked about it all year long – play to a standard," Kelley said. "We don't care who our opponent is, as long as we play our game, our talent will allow us to win the game. Today, we just allowed our talent to win, and we just played to our standard all day long and all year long. Your season always has ups and downs, but it's about playing your best in the postseason. Right now, we're playing our best."