MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. - Stevi Johnson connected on a two-run home run in the top of the first and Amanda Matsumoto drilled a bases-loaded two-run single in the top of the sixth in support of Cheyenne Gandara's complete game effort as No. 7 Charleston Southern defeated No. 2 Longwood, 5-2, on the first day of the 2014 Big South Conference Championships at the CCU Softball Field.
Johnson connected on her first collegiate home run of her career, drilling the first pitch she saw in the Big South Championships over the centerfield fence and off the camera stand to spark the Charleston Southern offense on the afternoon, while Matsumoto connected on a Big South Tournament freshman record with four hits in her first four at-bats to pace the CSU offense on the afternoon.
"Our focus all week long has been to be aggressive and to be fearless. In the first inning our young kids came out and did exactly that," commented CSU head coach Shane Winkler following the game. "We had a hustle play by Bergmann in the first inning and then a big two-run home run by Johnson. Those are all fearless type plays, so it's big for us to score first. Then with Cheyenne Gandara, we had kids that did amazing things for us all game long. We did what we needed to do to stay in the winner's bracket and we're going to take it one game at a time."
No. 7 Charleston Southern advances into the winners' bracket, facing off against the winner of No. 3 Radford and No. 6 Presbyterian tomorrow afternoon, with first pitch scheduled for 4:30 p.m.
"Tomorrow we're going to want to do the same type of thing," Winkler said about moving into the winner's bracket. "We want to be more aggressive tomorrow and be fearless. We have nothing to lose at the seven seed and we're going to be fearless, be aggressive and try to play confident."
Gandara (9-11) hurled a complete game in her first postseason start with the Buccaneers, going the distance in scattering six hits while striking out eight on the afternoon in the victory. The CSU right-hander used an effective rise ball consistently against the Lancers' lineup, fitting ending the game on a foul-tip strike three on the rise ball against Casey Lifsey with Georgi DeLio snagging the final pitch to end the contest in favor of the Buccaneers.
Stephanie Bergmann added two hits for the Bucs as the CSU freshmen trio of Bergmann, Johnson and Matsumoto connected on eight of the Buccaneers 10 hits in the contest. Seniors Stephanie Sbardella and Ari Tedesco added singles in the game against Longwood's All-Conference pitching staff of Libby Morris and Elizabeth McCarthy.
"The freshmen stepped up today and were amazing," Winkler had to say about the performance of his All-Big South Freshmen trio. "Matsumoto stepped up after we put her back in the leadoff spot and she had several clutch hits, including the two-out two-RBI single. Then Stevi with the home run and another hit; those are just fearless type acts. If we get the freshmen to step up like that, I know Jessica Brock and Stephanie Sbardella are also going to step up in the middle of our lineup, and that's going to make us as very tough team to beat."
Morris (16-10) suffered the loss on the afternoon for the Lancers, allowing three runs and five hits over the first three innings, while McCarthy allowed the final two runs in the sixth inning in closing out the game inside the circle for the Lancers.
Charleston Southern struck first in the top of the first inning with Johnson providing the big hit in the inning with her first collegiate home run of the season. The freshman right fielder connected on the first pitch from Longwood starter Libby Morris and drove it off the camera stand beyond the centerfield fence, scoring Stephanie Bergmann on the play to push the Bucs to the 3-0 lead. Matsumoto scored the first run of the game for the Bucs earlier in the frame, crossing the plate on Bergmann's RBI infield single.
Longwood responded with a run in the bottom half of the inning, taking advantage of a CSU missed connection up the middle with two outs. Gandara retired Chelsea Sciacca on strikes for the second out in the frame, but Katie Shinrock stole second on the pitch. The throw down to second base sailed into centerfield as the Bucs were late covering the play and rolled to the centerfield wall, allowing Shinrock to score to put the score at 3-1 after the first.
The Lancers added a second run in the bottom of the fourth as Katelyn Adams connected on a two-out single through the right side of the infield past a diving Jessica Brock, and the throw in from Johnson was wide, allowing Sciacca to score on the plate to narrow the score down to 3-2.
Matsumoto connected on her fourth hit of the day to push across a pair of insurance runs in the top of the sixth inning, connecting on a two-run single to left centerfield scoring Johnson and Tedesco to put CSU ahead 5-2 with two outs. Johnson led off the inning with a single up the middle. Tedesco followed with a bunt single that resulted in putting runners on the corners as the relay to first base sailed into right field. An intentional walk issued to Brooke Holcomb loaded the bases, but Longwood reliever Elizabeth McCarthy nearly escaped the jam in retiring the next two batters before Matsumoto's single pushed the CSU lead back to three runs.
In their final at-bats, Gandara issued a walk to Megan Baltzell to lead off the frame, but bounced back to catch Sciacca looking at strike three. A flyout to Tedesco in centerfield was the second out in the frame, before Gandara closed out the game with her eighth strikeout of the contest to close out the game.