Tulsa Rallies Past Bears to Open NCAA Regional Play, 9-7
NORMAN, Okla. -- Tulsa scored three times with two out in the bottom of the fifth inning to overcome a valiant comeback effort from the Missouri State Bears and claim a 9-7 victory to open NCAA Division I Softball Championship play Friday at the Norman Regional.
Missouri State rallied from an early 5-0 deficit against TU's Aimee Creger--the nation's earned run average leader coming into the regional--to briefly take a 7-6 lead courtesy of a five-run fifth inning. But Skylar Swanson's two-out base hit in the bottom half of the fifth plated the tying run, and Caitlin Everett's triple on the very next pitch handed reliever Lacey Middlebrooks (11-4) a lead she would not relinquish.
Tulsa tacked on an insurance run when Christa Gammon couldn't come up with a Jill Barrett grounder to second that allowed Everett to score the Golden Hurricane's ninth run of the contest.
The two-run cushion would be more than enough for Middlebrooks, who retired the final six Missouri State hitters in order to close out the victory for Tulsa.
The setback for the Bears stopped a seven-game win streak and followed a gritty comeback for the Missouri Valley Conference champions. MSU, which got to Creger for seven runs--a season high for a Tulsa opponent against the freshman right-hander--started its climb back with a two-run third, then scored five times in the fifth to complete the rally. Gammon, Tyler Porter and Heather Duckworth led the Bears' attack with two hits apiece, but the Golden Hurricane took advantage of three MSU errors to score four unearned runs against Savannah Wiggins (7-4), who took the loss after giving up all nine runs and 11 TU hits.
The Golden Hurricane appeared to take control of the game in the bottom of the second, scoring five times on four hits and one costly Missouri State miscue. Shortstop Kirstin Cutter's throwing error on a Kelly Chapman bouncer to lead-off the inning set the stage, as Creger promptly helped her own cause by lining a Wiggins pitch over the head of Porter and off the center field wall or an RBI double. After Shelby Blanton fouled out, Cassidy Bowen singled through the left side, and Swanson drew a walk to load the bases. That's when Everett delivered the biggest blow of the inning with a soft liner into center to bring two runs to the plate for a 3-0 TU lead. The regional's No. 2 seed wasn't quite done, as a Barrett grounder drove in another tally, and a Samantha Cobb infield hit plated TU's fifth run of the inning.
Missouri State would begin to chip away at the five-run deficit, scoring a pair of runs of its own in the top of the third, taking advantage of two illegal pitches that negated outs. Wiggins started things off with an infield hit, then came home on a Gammon single up the middle. Porter came through with a two-out hit, and Gammon trotted home on a passed ball to make it a 5-2 ballgame.
Tulsa added a run in the bottom of the fourth to push its lead back to four runs, but the Bears erupted for five runs in the top of the fifth to come all the way back and take a 7-6 advantage. Three of the first four Missouri State batters reached base in the inning, started off by Gammon's liner to short that resulted in a double. Following a flyout off the bat of Cutter, Porter delivered a base hit, and Gammon scored her second run of the game on a wild pitch to pull MSU to within three runs. Pinch hitter Caitlin Chapin drew a walk before Ashley Knehans lined out to the pitcher for the second out of the frame.
But Stevie Pierce came through with the first of three straight clutch at-bats for the Bears, lining Creger's 2-1 pitch into left-center for a two-run single that trimmed TU's lead to 6-5. After Pierce moved up to second on yet another illegal pitch, Duckworth drove her home with a towering shot that eluded the glove of Everett in center. Wiggins then hit what appeared to be a routine grounder to short, but Cobb's throw skipped wide of the bag at first, allowing Duckworth to come around with the go-ahead run.
Wiggins ran into trouble right away in the bottom of the fifth, with Creger leading-off with a double to center. Blanton flew-out to center and Cassidy Bowen grounded back to the circle for the second out, but Swanson's single to right brought home pinch-runner Jessica Stoelke with the equalizing run and opened the door for Tulsa's game-clinching rally.
Everett paced the Golden Hurricane offense by driving in three runs and scoring two more with her 2-for-3 effort at the plate.
The Golden Hurricane (44-13) moves on to a 1 p.m., date Saturday with the winner of Friday's second contest featuring host and top seed Oklahoma against No. 4 seed Iona, while the Bears (29-24) will meet the loser of that game in an elimination matchup at 3:30 p.m.