ST. GEORGE – The Dixie State softball team showed it can win a low-scoring defensive game Saturday afternoon with a 5-3 come-from-behind victory over the UC-San Diego Tritons.
The Tritons, known more for their strategic play on the bases, faced a Red Storm team that leads the nation in batting average. And while UCSD had the upper hand early, DSU’s four-run rally in the fifth inning turned the game around. The Storm scratched across the four runs with walks, infield hits and, eventually, a go-ahead RBI single by Dixie High graduate Sheila Gelter.
San Diego jumped out early, putting up two quick runs in the first inning. The quick Triton players were able to turn routine infield grounders into hits. The first run scored, however, came on a double steal. With base runners at the corners, Dixie catcher Marla Reiter faked the throw to second and threw to the pitcher Michelle Duncan trying to catch the third base runner. But Duncan was not expecting the throw. The ball hit a ducking Duncan square between the shoulder blades.
“I was so focused on the batter and the pitch I had just thrown that I had forgotten the play we had called,” said Duncan.
Another infield single by McKenna Clewett scored a second run in the inning.
In the third, UCSD lead-off batter Callie Grant got on base on a fielding error. After stealing second and being sacrificed to third, Grant would score on a fielder’s choice to give the Tritons a 3-0 advantage after three.
Triton starting pitcher Jennifer Manuel had only allowed two harmless hits over the first four innings vs. Dixie State. But in the fifth inning, the DSU offense came alive. Brook Budge led off with a single down the third base line. She was followed by infield singles from Josie Hartman and Bailee Freeland. With the bases loaded, Manuel walked Nicole Chavez to score Dixie’s first run.
Courtney Hine followed with a single to center field, making it 3-2. San Diego coach Patti Gerckens then made a pitching change, calling in ace reliever Alexis Edwards to replace Manuel. Courtney Sherwin’s line drive out to right field sacrificed in the tying run. Gelter then singled in the go-ahead run with a grounder up the middle. Going into the bottom half of the fifth, the Dixie State lead was the slimmest of margins, 4-3.
“I probably got Jennifer (Manuel) out of the game a little late,” Gerckens said. “Her relief had not warmed up yet so I asked her for a few more minutes. Unfortunately that led to two more runs.”
Duncan seemed to get into a groove in the later innings. The Tritons would only manage two hits over the last four innings against the Dixie ace.
“The plate calls seemed inconsistent initially,” said Duncan. “In the later innings, I was able to get ahead of the batters and dictate their choices late in the count.”
“Our whole focus was getting that lead-off batter out,” said Dixie State head coach Randy Simkins. “UCSD is so good at getting that lead runner around the bases. But if you are not working with three outs, it changes a lot of what you can do in regards to sacrifices, bunts, etc.”
Sherwin would add an insurance solo shot in the top of the seventh to get to the final score of 5-3.
Duncan moves to 16-1 on the season while Manuel drops to 8-6. UCSD subsequently lost its elimination game against Central Washington later in the day. The Wildcats, who lost to DSU in the first round, have fought back by winning two games to get back to the championship game. They will face off against the Red Storm at noon. Should Dixie lose, the two will face off again to determine the pod winner, which will head to the West Region finals.
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