MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. - Jessica Brock's monstrous three-run home run in the top of the third inning splintered the palm tree in centerfield and ended No. 2 Longwood's tournament hopes as No. 7 Charleston Southern advanced to Sunday afternoon's Big South Conference Championship Game on ESPNU, following their 7-2 win over the Lancers.
"God is good. It's tough to explain things sometimes," commented Charleston Southern head coach Shane Winkler about the trip from the Bucs to the championship game. "The amount of jams we have been through all weekend long; our pitchers have gotten themselves out of, the amount of two-out hits, the amount of two strike hits, that's just a team that's fighting. The biggest thing about going into a tournament like this: the best team doesn't win. The team that plays the best wins. Right now, we're playing the best."
Brock's home run, her first of the postseason, came with one out in the inning following back-to-back singles by Ari Tedesco and Amanda Matsumoto. The CSU senior crushed the 2-0 offering from Longwood starter Elizabeth McCarthy over the fence just to the right of straightaway centerfield, nestling in the intertwining branches 25 feet above the ground to give the Buccaneers a lead they would not relinquish the rest of the way in closing out the victory.
"Jess and I had a long talk last night and I just let her know there is no player on our team that I would rather have up in any situation," Winkler had to say about Brock's home run. "She is our best hitter, she's our most clutch hitter and I knew there was a time that she was going to come through. And she did that today."
Charleston Southern advances to the 2014 Big South Conference Championship Game on Sunday afternoon and will take on the winner of No. 1 Coastal Carolina and No. 5 Campbell in a winner-take-all contest broadcast nationwide on ESPNU. First pitch between the Bucs and their opponent is set for noon Eastern Time.
"The biggest thing is continuing to be fearless," Winkler commented on the mindset of the Buccaneers heading into tomorrow's championship game. "We came here from the get-go not talking about making the championship and I told the girls that in our last game we didn't come to make the championship, we came in with the mindset that we are going to dogpile on the pitchers' circle to win a ball game and that's what we're here for: to try to win a championship. So we put ourselves in that position by being fearless and aggressive and it's worked out so far. We have a very good feeling and it's just one more time of stepping up."
Brock, the Charleston Southern offensive leader in hits, home runs and RBI during the regular season, came up big with her first hit of the postseason to put the Buccaneers in the lead, and Hayes Holdsworth added a RBI double in the top of the sixth as CSU defeated the Lancers for the second time in the tournament to eliminate the reigning 2013 Big South Champions from the tournament field.
Cheyenne Gandara (10-11) picked up her second win of the tournament against the Lancers on the afternoon, entering the game with the bases-loaded and two outs in the bottom of the fourth. The freshman right-hander, who struck out the side to close out the game against Presbyterian on Friday night, retired Chelsea Sciacca on a groundout to the second baseman to end the threat. Gandara struck out two batters the rest of the way in closing out the contest.
"I've never heard of a fourth or fifth year freshman, but Cheyenne is pitching like that," Winkler said about the freshman hurler's performance in the tournament. "At some point every year you stop being a freshman and our entire freshman class has grown up a ton in the past week. They've hit a switch. Right now our team is playing very well and we're looking forward to tomorrow."
McCarthy (20-6) suffered the loss on the afternoon for the Lancers in the contest, allowing six hits and four runs (three earned) in the contest. Elizabeth Morris closed out the game inside the circle for Longwood, allowing seven hits and three runs.
Brock's three-run home run sparked the CSU offense in the top of the third inning as the Bucs pushed across four runs in the frame to take a 4-0 lead. Stephanie Sbardella and Stevi Johnson added singles in the frame following the home run, and the Bucs took advantage of a Longwood fielding miscue on Hayes Holdsworth's pop-up over the first baseman, allowing Sbardella to score on the play.
Longwood responded with two runs in the bottom of the third to halve the Charleston Southern lead as Katelyn Adams connected on a two-run triple down the left field line past a diving Holdsworth in scoring Emily Murphy and Chelsea Sciacca on the play. Holdsworth recovered to track the ball down in the corner and her relay to Stephanie Bergmann was sent on to the plate, with DeLio blocking the path and applying the tag on Adams to end the inning and the Lancers threat.
The Lancers again threatened in the bottom of the fourth inning as Longwood loaded the bases with two outs against Giles. Jamie Barbour and Amy Putnam reached on back-to-back singles, while Megan Baltzell was issued an intentional walk on Giles' last pitch of the contest. Gandara came in to shut down the Longwood threat in getting Sciacca to ground out to Natalie Yonan at second to end the inning.
The Buccaneers added insurance runs in both the sixth and seventh innings against Morris as Holdsworth connected on a one-out double to right centerfield in the sixth inning scoring Stephanie Bergmann to push the edge to 5-2. Two more runs came across in the top of the seventh with Bergmann and Johnson connecting on back-to-back singles, scoring Amanda Matsumoto and Sbardella to push the lead to 7-2.
Gandara, in her third appearance in the tournament, shut down the Lancers in order over the last three innings, retiring all 10 batters she faced in the game with Bergmann snagging the line drive up the middle off of Sciacca's bat to end the game and set off the celebration on the field.
Five different CSU players had multiple hits in the contest led by Sbardella's 3-for-4 performance from the plate. Bergmann had two hits for the third consecutive game as well, while Johnson, Matsumoto and Ari Tedesco all had two hits apiece to pace the Charleston Southern offense.