ROCK HILL, S.C. - For the second time in two years Jana Matthews opened up the Big South Conference Championships with a pair of home runs and Jennifer Giles had a career-high 11 strikeouts on the mound as No. 9 Charleston Southern topped No. 8 Presbyterian in the tournament opener at Terry Field, 7-2.
"It was an outstanding way to start the tournament," commented head coach Shane Winkler on the victory. "It was do or die in that situation and we responded with one of our best overall performances on the season. This was one of the best starts we've gotten from Jenn (Giles) all season; I think she had 11 strikeouts. Offensively, we got exactly what we needed with clutch hitting at the top of our lineup today."
The CSU career home run leader, Matthews connected on a three-run blast in the top of the first inning and added a two-run shot over the right field fence in the top of the fifth inning. The two home run game was reminiscent of last year's tournament opener when the senior left fielder went deep twice in the Bucs' 14-3 victory over Liberty en route to CSU's trip to the Big South Conference Championship Game.
"Jana was clutch today," said Winkler on his senior outfielder's performance. "That first at-bat she was supposed to get down a bunt, but at 0-2, she ran into a pitch and put us on the board, which was big. The key to this game, especially with us being the visitors, was being able to score first and set the table, making sure we didn't have to play catch-up ball."
On the mound, Giles struck out the side in both the first and second innings in one of the most dominant starts of a game in Big South Championship history and finished the game with 10 strikeouts, shattering her previous career high of six strikeouts which she had matched four times in her career. Her 10 strikeouts were the most by a CSU pitcher the 2007 season when Amanda Noble struck out 12 batters against Hampton back on February 27th.
"Jenn was phenomenal today," commented Winkler on his ace's performance on the mound. "That's the same Jenn we saw down at Florida earlier this season. She was clutch with her location and her velocity was up with the extra rest we've gotten these past two weeks. We got absolutely everything we needed from her today."
With the win, Charleston Southern advanced to take on top seed Coastal Carolina this afternoon, with first pitch at Terry Field set for 2:30 p.m. Presbyterian see their season end with a final record of 22-31.
"We'll go back and look at the film at both their pitchers," Winkler commented on the upcoming afternoon matchup against Coastal Carolina. "They have two great pitchers, but we're going in with the same philosophy. We have to find a way to keep the ball in the park and give ourselves a chance offensively. We can also swing the bats a lot better and I like the way we match up with them."
Giles went 6.1 innings in the contest, allowing two hits and one run in picking up her ninth win of the season on the rubber. She also spread around her strikeouts, retiring nine different PC batters on strikes in the contest, including eight of the nine Blue Hose starters in the game.
It took only one swing for the Buccaneers to take their first lead of the game in the top of the first inning as Matthews connected on a three-run home run in the frame to stake CSU to the early lead.
Marci Christian led off the inning drawing a walk and advanced to second base on an illegal pitch during Stephanie Sbardella's at-bat. The illegal pitch called rattled PC starter Kelsey Loudermelk as she plunked Sbardella on the following pitch, giving the Bucs two runners on with none out. Matthews approached the plate, attempting to advance the runners on a sacrifice bunt, but fouled off her first two attempts. With the green light to swing, the senior from Boonville, N.C., added to her CSU home run record total, putting her 35th blast in the books as her shot cleared the centerfield fence to stake the Bucs to the early 3-0 lead at Terry Field.
Giles also had the hot hand early on the mound for the Buccaneers, striking out the side in the bottom of the first inning. The sophomore right-hander retired Tera Powell, Morgan Durham and Erin Ruff in order to retire the side on strikes for the first time in the 2013 season.
After the Bucs were retired in order in the top of the second inning, Giles continues to deal in the bottom of the second. The sophomore followed up her first frame in getting Cat Tarvin to go down swinging, caught Kersten Legacki looking at an inside fastball for strike three and blew a pitch by Shelby Petik to open the contest with six strikeouts in a row.
Courtney Lawton ended Giles' run in the bottom of the third, hammering a 3-1 pitch down the left field line for a leadoff double in becoming the first PC batter to reach base in the contest. An errant throw on Jill McLean's chopped swing down the third base line gave the Blue Hose runners on the corners, but Giles rallied back to retire Erin Taylor on strikes. Powell followed with an RBI single up the middle to put PC on the board, driving in Lawton, but Durham went down on strikes for the second time to put two outs on the board.
Ruff kept the Presbyterian rally alive, drawing a walk to load the bases, but Tarvin was unable to capitalize in sending a slow roller down the first base line with Hannah Wagner able to record the out to end the Blue Hose rally as the Bucs held the 3-1 lead after three innings.
The Bucs threatened in the top of the fourth as Hayes Holdsworth and Wagner both send drives to the fence, with Petik making a leaping grab to rob Holdsworth of a home run in left field, while Wagner's drive was caught in front of the fence by Tarvin as Loudermelk escaped the inning without allowing a run.
CSU expanded their lead in the top of the fifth, adding two more runs in playing small ball before Matthews connected on a two-run shot to right field, her second home run on the day to put the Bucs ahead, 7-1.
Natalie Yonan and Ari Tedesco reached on back-to-back one out singles, putting runners on the corners for the top of the Buccaneers batting order. Christian drove in pinch runner Jasmine Conley on a fielder's choice as Tedesco was forced on the play. After picking up her fourth stolen base of the season, Christian scored on Sbardella's line drive single to left field. Matthews followed with her second blast of the day and 11th home run of the season, driving the ball opposite field and over the right field fence to stake Giles to the six-run lead.
Tarvin took one back in the bottom of the sixth for the Blue Hose, turning on an inside pitch from relief pitcher Linzy Rother and sending a towering one-out drive over the foul pole down the right field line for the solo home run. Petik added a two-out double and Lawton drew a walk as the PC bats started to rally, but Giles re-entered the game and retired Alyssa Goodin for her 10th strikeout of the game to end the threat.
After the Bucs went down in the seventh, Giles returned to the mound and retired the Blue Hose in order in the seventh, catching Durham swinging on strikes to end the game for her 11th and final strikeout of the game.