HARROGATE, Tenn. — Paige Sneed and Nicole Ball drove in three runs apiece as Tusculum College defeated Lincoln Memorial University 9-2 in the opening game of the 2014 South Atlantic Conference softball Tournament Thursday at Dorothy Neely Field.
Sneed finished 3-for-3 and was hit by a pitch to force in a run as the fourth-seeded Pioneers (31-22) won their opening game of the SAC Tournament for the third straight year. They will face the winner of Thursday’s final game between top-seeded Lenoir-Rhyne and eighth-seeded Catawba in a winners bracket game on Friday at 12:30 p.m.
Kelly King (19-11) allowed nine hits to the fifth-seeded Railsplitters (26-16) but stranded nine runners on base while being supported by a nine-hit attack by her Tusculum teammates.
Tusculum trailed 1-0 in the second inning, but scored twice in the second and another in the third to grab a 3-1 lead. Lincoln Memorial got a run back in the top of the fifth, but the Pioneers put the game away with two more runs in the bottom of the fifth and a four-run outburst in the last of the sixth.
After a scoreless first inning, the Railsplitters opened the scoring in the second as Amanda Snow led off with a single and scored on an RBI single by Emilee Solomon. LMU loaded the bases with one out, but a fielder’s choice forceout at the plate and a liner to left prevented further damage.
Tusculum came back with a pair of run in its half of the second off Lincoln Memorial starter Samantha Smith. Courtney Hutcherson led off the inning with a walk and Tavi Parris followed with a single. After a force out, Ball reached on a mishandled throw to load the bases.
Sneed then followed with an RBI single up the middle to drive in Parris and tie the game at 1-1. Following a strikeout, Carolyn Williamson drew a walk on a full-count pitch to plate Katie Brennan and give the Pioneers a 2-1 lead.
Tusculum left runners at first and second in the third and LMU stranded runners at the corners in the fourth to keep the score at 2-1, but the Pioneers added to their lead in the bottom of the fourth. Sneed led off with a single and was replaced by pinch-runner Leah Powell, who took second on a wild pitch, moved to third on a groundout and scored on another wild pitch from Smith for a 3-1 lead.
Lincoln Memorial came right back in the top of the fifth as Jennifer Moose led off with a double and scored on an one-out single by Payton Bruce. However, King started a double play off the bat of Snow to keep the score at 3-2.
Tusculum started to put the game away in the bottom of the fifth as Kaytlin Stroinski walked and Hutcherson was hit by a pitch. After a sacrifice by Parris and a walk to Brennan which loaded the bases, Ball hit a grounder that was mishandled for an error, allowing Stroinski to score for a 4-2 lead. Sneed was then hit by a pitch from reliever Kirstin Toole to force in Hutcherson and give the Pioneers a 5-2 lead.
The Pioneers blew the game open in the sixth, scoring four times to take a 9-2 lead. With one out, Stroinski doubled, took third on an infield single by Hutcherson and scored on a fielder’s choice grounder by Parris. After an infield single by Brennan, Ball doubled down the left-field line to bring home two runs and extend the Tusculum lead to 8-2. Sneed capped the scoring with a single to center to knock in Ball with the final run of the game.
Stroinski finished 2-for-3 with a walk and two runs scored for the Pioneers, while Hutcherson reached in three of her four trips with a single, walk and hit by pitch. Brennan and Parris each scored a pair of runs in the victory.
For the Railsplitters, Toole went 3-for-3 while Moose was 2-for-4 with a run scored and Solomon reached twice on a hit and walk. Smith (15-9) gave up five runs, four earned, on four hits with three strikeouts and four walks in 4-1/3 innings, while Toole allowed four earned runs on five hits in 1-2/3 innings of work for LMU.