MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. - Stephanie Sbardella and Georgi DeLio both connected on solo home runs to pace the Charleston Southern offense on the afternoon, while Cheyenne Gandara struck out the side after surviving a scare in the bottom of the seventh as No. 7 Charleston Southern defeated No. 6 Presbyterian on Friday afternoon, 4-3.
Charleston Southern advances to Saturday afternoon and will take on the winner of No. 2 Longwood and No. 5 Winthrop at the 2014 Big South Softball Championships with first pitch at the CCU Softball Field scheduled for noon. All Saturday games will be streamed live on ESPN3 as the Buccaneers look to make their way back to the championship game for the second time in the past three seasons.
"All season long, we've been so close to breaking through," commented CSU head coach Shane Winkler following the CSU victory. "That's a game earlier in the year that we'd find a way to lose the lead, but postseason is a brand new start to a season. We continued to fight and that showed."
With CSU holding the 4-1 lead heading into the bottom of the seventh, Presbyterian mounted a comeback as Kersten Legacki connected on a two-run blast to straightaway centerfield leaving the Bucs clinging to a one run lead and still needing three outs. However, Gandara rebounded and displayed the form that made her one of the top pitchers in the Big South during the regular season in striking out the next three batters to close out the game for her second save of the season.
Stephanie Sbardella and Stephanie Bergmann had two hits apiece for the Buccaneers on the afternoon to pace the CSU offensive attack, while Morgan Dowdy, Jennifer Giles and Gandara pitched around trouble throughout the game as Presbyterian stranded 11 runners on base in the contest.
"The key we told our team coming into the tournament was even though we haven't hit the long ball a lot this season, I told the girls that we're going to have to hit some balls out of the park to win," said Winkler on the CSU power display over the first two games. "We didn't come in just to make the weekend; we came in here to compete and win the championship and we're trying to take big swings, be aggressive and be fearless."
Giles (11-12) picked up the victory inside the circle for the Bucs on the afternoon, going 2.1 innings of shutout relief against the PC lineup, battling through a bases-loaded jam in the fifth inning. Gandara picked up her second save of the season, going 1.2 innings and striking out four.
"It was gut check time for our pitchers from inning no. 1," Winkler commented on the staff effort inside the circle. "They had runners on base almost every inning if not every inning. They left a small army on base and our pitchers had to battle the entire game. That was the key. Earlier in the season we may have found a way to lose the lead, but our entire team fought; we fought every single pitch and that is our focus, trying to win one pitch at a time."
Sydney Seigler (L, 11-13), went the distance for the Blue Hose on the afternoon, allowing six hits and four runs (three earned) in the loss. The PC right-hander struck out one and walked one in the effort.
Sbardella led off the game with the first run of the afternoon as the senior from Fairfax Station, Va., connected on the 2-1 offering from PC starter Sydney Seigler, drilling a towering fly ball down the left field line and off the television production truck behind the fence. The home run, her third of the season, put the Bucs ahead of the Blue Hose 1-0.
Presbyterian answered with a two-out rally in the bottom of the first against CSU starter Morgan Dowdy with Hope Rogers, Shelby Petik and Kersten Legacki connecting on three consecutive singles to even the score. Legacki's single dropped in the gap in shallow right centerfield, allowing Rogers to score from second and knotted the game up at 1-1.
Jennifer Giles came in relief for the Bucs in the fourth inning and the Charleston Southern defense came up with a spectacular play to cut short the Presbyterian rally. Erin Taylor singled up the middle to lead off the inning and Jordan Ashley dropped down the sacrifice bunt, advancing Taylor into scoring position. Courtney Lawton half swung and connected on a soft popup in the infield dirt between the pitcher, first baseman and second baseman that looked like trouble before Sbardella dove and snagged the ball above the dirt, throwing to second to double up Taylor to end the inning.
The long ball again put the Buccaneers on the scoreboard in the top of the fifth inning as DeLio connected on her first collegiate home run of the season, driving the ball over the right centerfield fence. The blast led off the frame and put CSU back ahead of the Blue Hose 2-1.
PC threatened again in the fifth inning, loading the bases against Giles with two outs. Erin Ruff reached on a single, while Petik and Legacki both drew walks. However, the CSU junior right-hander bounced back inside the circle, getting Kayla Donlap swinging at strike three to end the inning and escape the jam.
Charleston Southern threatened to put the game out of reach in top of the sixth inning as Sbardella, Stephanie Bergmann and Stevi Johnson connected on back-to-back-to-back singles to load the bases with one out. Hayes Holdsworth, in a key pinch-hitting situation, connected on a sacrifice fly down the right field line deep enough to score Sbardella and give the Bucs the 3-1 lead.
The Buccaneers added an insurance run in the top of the seventh as Natalie Yonan led off the inning drawing a leadoff walk. A sacrifice bunt dropped by Lizzy Olmstead advanced Yonan into scoring position. Matsumoto followed with a bunt in front of the plate and as she reached first, the throw from the PC third baseman connected off her shoulder and trickled down the right field line allowing Yonan to score on the play to stretch the CSU lead to 4-1.
Down to their final at-bats, Legacki connected on a two-run shot over the centerfield fence to cut the Charleston Southern lead down to 4-3. Petik led off the inning with a single past a diving Jessica Brock through the right side of the infield before Legacki cranked the 3-1 offering from Gandara deep over the fence to spark the Presbyterian bench in the seventh inning.
Gandara bounced back from the home run, retiring Jen Marshall, Erin Taylor and Jordan Ashley on strikes to end the contest in picking up her second save of the season.