Piedmont wins six elimination games in a row to capture USA South title
ROCKY MOUNT, N.C. -- Piedmont did the improbable on Championship Sunday at the 2014 USA South championship tournament, winning a morning play-in game to earn a date in the championship round where the squad won two more to claim its first USA South tourney title. Piedmont first knocked off LaGrange in a 1-0 thriller before holding for a 1-0 win against Huntingdon in Game 1 of the championship round, which set up a winner-take-all second game. There, the Lady Lions rallied from two down in the bottom of the seventh to take a 5-4 win to claim the title.
Looking for a chance to head to the championship where No. 2 seed Huntingdon awaited, both pitchers took no-hitters into the fourth inning of the morning game against LaGrange. Piedmont's Laura Carter broke through with a two-out single to left in the top half of the frame, before promptly stealing second two pitches later. Wolfe, however, shut the door by forcing a groundout to end the inning and get the Panthers out unscathed.
Piedmont again threatened in the fifth without the benefit of a hit as leadoff batter Lauren Head was hit by a pitch just before the Panthers committed a costly fielding error on the ensuing bunt that placed Lady Lion runners on second and third with no outs. Whitney Wolfe followed with a sac-fly to center that plated Atkinson with the game's first and only run, but LC's Wolfe would get out of the jam with back-to-back strikeouts to keep the score 1-0.
Despite the one-run lead, it would be just enough for PC's Brittney Head working in the circle, who took a perfect game into the bottom of the seventh. The Panthers' Dani Gravett managed a one-out single to left to break up the excellence, but she would be stranded at first as Piedmont held on for a 1-0 victory against the Panthers, avenging a loss to LaGrange which opened up the tourney on Friday.
After the 1-0 win against its in-state rival, Piedmont would move to the championship round for a matchup with Huntingdon, needing to take two from the Lady Hawks to win the title as Huntingdon came into Sunday without a loss in the championships. The similarities though between Piedmont's current run and a GSAC title run in 2011 eerily favored the Lady Lions as that championship push three years back started with a loss to LaGrange that put PC in the losers' bracket.
Head was brilliant once again against the Lady Hawks -- her fifth consecutive start -- shutting HC out through seven complete, moving her record to 20-2 with the eventual win.
Head allowed just three hits to Huntingdon in that first game as she would need only one run in support, a run she got in the top of the second as Lady Lion Abby Smith belted a two-out triple that Huntingdon mishandled as center fielder Jenna Rimensnyder was responsible for an errant throw back in. That error allowed Smith to take home as she slid head-first under the tag at home.
As Head continued to be brilliant in the circle, Huntingdon would not be able to draw level with PC in Game 1 as Head caught Rimensynder looking at strike three in the bottom of the seventh, causing her Lady Lion teammates to pour out of the dugout and met her in celebration of the realization that they were headed to the final piece of the championship.
The two teams would switch frames with Piedmont becoming the home team in Game 2, a factor that would most certainly come into play late. Huntingdon jumped on the board first after three scoreless innings, getting a run on a Piedmont error in the top of the fourth though the home team responded in its half of the inning.
PC's first run came on a RBI single to left center from Allison Vaughn as Abby Atkinson came around to score just before the ball made its way back into the infield, but a throw from Huntingdon pitcher Brooke Meadows went awry as the Lady Hawks pitcher was trying to catch Jessica Perschka too far off third. Instead, the throw got away and a sliding Perschka was urged up by head coach Terry Martin at third as she was able to take home as a result of the fielding mistake.
The pair of Piedmont runs gave the home team a 2-1 lead which stayed the same after a scoreless fifth, but the championship seesaw continued to sway as Huntingdon would get two runs in the sixth to reclaim the lead 3-2. A sac fly to right scored the first, but the throw in from Olivia Duncan in right got away from Lauren Head at home, and alert base running from Huntingdon's Haleigh DiNicholas gave the Lady Hawks back the one-run lead.
Huntingdon added an insurance run in the top of the seventh as a sac bunt which allowed Ashley Johnson to score after she had tripled earlier to lead off the inning to go ahead 4-2.
Piedmont's Vaughn was hit by a pitch in to lead off the bottom of the seventh as she took one off the shin and pinch runner Sarah Walker was called in to relieve the Piedmont second baseman.
A walk to Olivia Duncan on the next at-bat put two on with nobody out. After Huntingdon was able to record an out on a failed bunt attempt by PC, Laura Carter layed down a bunt that forced Meadows out of the circle to field as the Lady Hawks pitcher air mailed her throw to first over the head of her covering teammate allowing Walker to score from third to make it a one-run game at 4-3 with Duncan advancing to third and Carter taking second on the error.
With still just one out and now two runners in scoring position, it would be all up to Abby Smith for Piedmont as the Lady Lions looked for one more bit of magic up their sleeves. PC found that bit of magic as Smith laid down a pitch back toward Meadows with Olivia Duncan charging toward home. As Meadows came out of the circle to make the play, the Huntingdon pitcher would scoop the ball up toward a waiting DiNicholas at home who could not handle the toss as Duncan would slide right under the feet of the Lady Hawk catcher.
Laura Carter, who hit .350 to lead her team on championship weekend, started toward home as the ball trickled toward the backstop with Meadows giving chase. However, no Lady Hawk would have a play on the ball as the third error from Meadows proved too costly with Carter touching home plate standing up just before jumping into the arms of a sea of Green and Gold careening out of the first-base dugout.
The win in the circle went to sophomore Jordin Ellingson who had entered in relief of the senior Brittney Head in the top of the sixth. Up until that point, Head had pitched the team's previous five games, throwing just more than 38 innings on the weekend allowing only two earned runs.
The Lady Lions moved to 41-6 overall after winning six of seven on the weekend. As a result of claiming the league's tournament title, Piedmont also lays claim to the league's automatic berth into the NCAA tournament, the program's fourth such appearance in the past five seasons under head coach Terry Martin who sits just four wins shy of 400 in his career.