Photo LMU Athletics

The No. 3-seeded Lincoln Memorial University softball team lost in the first game of the best-of-three NCAA Division II Softball Southeast Super Regional against fifth-seeded Young Harris, 1-0, at Dorothy Neely Field.

Miscues doom Lady Railsplitters in Super Regional game one loss to Young Harris

HARROGATE, Tenn. — Margin for error in softball is slim to none.

The No. 3-seeded Lincoln Memorial University softball team was unfortunately reminded of that Thursday in the first game of the best-of-three NCAA Division II Softball Southeast Super Regional as fifth-seeded Young Harris used a pair of miscues and a shut-out pitching effort to keep the lethal Lady Railsplitters off the scoreboard in a 1-0 victory at Dorothy Neely Field.

“Hats off to Young Harris. They were every bit as tough as we thought they’d be,” LMU head coach Ritchie Richardson said. “I think what we will take away from this ballgame is just how slim the margins of victory are. We make a couple mistakes — a baserunning mistake and defensive miscue — that basically decided the ballgame here.

“We knew that we’d have limited opportunities to score. [Nikkie] Kovalsky was expectational as she has been in the regional tournament leading up to today. We knew the opportunities we would have would be few and far between. We had to capitalize on them, and we failed to. They did a tremendous job of capitalizing on the few opportunities that they had today.”

In the bottom of the fourth inning, it was LMU who forced the biggest scoring threat. Senior Kelsie Hocutt battled through a leadoff, 12-pitch at-bat with a single into left field, and then Richardson opted to go with a pinch runner in Kelsie Tuggle to replace Hocutt. The freshman showed her heads-up bas running in the next at-bat when Emma Webb executed a fake bunt single to the right of the third baseman and into left field, pushing Tuggle all the way to the other corner on a sliding effort with zero outs.

The Lady Railsplitters were set up for success, but then the worst happened as Tuggle was caught in a pickle, attempting to tag and score on a swallow fly out that shifted the momentum to the Mountain Lions.

“It was a called play. They were really crashing,” said Richardson of Webb’s hit. “A game like this, I think everybody is anticipating that you’re going to move runners when you get them on and move them in scoring position with a bunt. They were crashing pretty hard so we had the idea that we would fake bunt hit and Emma executed it perfectly. We ended up with Kelsie Tuggle pinch running for [Kelsie Hocutt]. Kelsie made a great read in getting to third base — it was a great hustle play for her to get in safely at third base — but then the baserunning miscue there really ran us out of the inning.”

That was the Lady Railsplitters best chance of scoring against Nikke Kovalsy (W, 27-11), who allowed just four hits in her complete-game performance, as Webb was the only one able to make contact from the fourth inning on in the sixth frame while Savannah Daniel drew her second walk in the fifth.

The storyline was about the same in LMU’s circle as Bailey Griffith (L, 16-8) was sufficient, allowing six hits and one unearned run — due to under throwing Hocutt at first base to start the fifth — over 5.1 innings which put Kristan Lizardi on base. A sacrifice bunt pushed her over to second, and then with two outs, Morgan Curley doubled into left center to bring around the to-be game-winning run.

That run was all the Mountains Lions needed. Young Harris used another threat in the sixth inning with back-to-back singles, but Justice Smith relieved Griffith and hushed the visitor bats the rest of the way with just one issued walk.

The Lady Railsplitters’ inability to muster anything versus Kovalsky now has LMU in a win-or-go home situation; however, the task of winning two straight isn’t asking anything new of the host team.

“It’s about the series. We always knew there would be game two,” Richardson said. “It’s going to be a long day for the ‘Splitters tomorrow. We’ve got to come prepared to play all day and hopefully we bounce back. We aren’t down on anybody. In a double-elimination tournament, you can’t get down after that first game.

“We’ve won two in a row lots of times this year. We have a quality opponent so we’ll have to bring our best because they certainly brought their competitive best. You just go out there and you play tomorrow, play as hard as you can and hope for better results.”