SALEM, Va. — The Dixie State softball team just finds ways to win and it did it again Thursday night with a nailbiting 3-2 victory over Southeastern Oklahoma State in the first round of the NCAA Division II World Series.
The Red Storm left eight runners on base and failed time and again to come up with that one game-breaking hit, and yet DSU made a couple of stellar defensive plays late in the game and right fielder Courtney Sherwin provided all the offense Dixie State would need with a 3-run home run as the Red Storm beat SEO 3-2.
With the win, DSU advances in the winner’s bracket of the eight-team tournament and will play Valdosta State Friday at 6:30 p.m. (EST) at Moyer Sports Complex.
“We try to approach every game the same way,” DSU coach Randy Simkins said. “One pitch, one out, one inning at a time is what we focus on, whether it’s the Regional or Super Regional or World Series or whatever. I told the team they should be really proud. Fifty wins — there aren’t too many teams at any level that reach 50 wins.”
Sherwin came to bat in a scoreless tie in the third inning with two outs and Bailee Freeland at second and Nicole Chavez at first. The inning was still alive thanks to a Savage Storm error on a Freeland ground ball and a Chavez single. Sherwin, a .454 hitter, took a 1-0 pitch and rocketed it over the fence in left-center to stake the Red Storm to a 3-0 lead.
“It was a no-doubter, kind of a line drive, but over the fence by a long ways,” Simkins said. “Her previous at-bat she kind of got jammed on a 3-1 pitch and I got on her a bit to be on time with the swing when she’s ahead in the count. When she was rounding third after her home run, she leaned in a said, ‘Coach, I was on time with that one.'”
Southeastern Oklahoma got back one of those runs in the bottom of the third on a two-out bases loaded single by Sydney Kramer. Mindy McElroy scored from third, but Dixie State’s defense made its first big play of the day on the play when Megan Birchfield tried to come around from second to home on Kramer’s hit to center. DSU center fielder Courtney Hine delivered a strike to catcher Marla Reiter to gun Birchfield down at the plate.
“Hine has a rocket for an arm,” Simkins said. “She threw her out by a long ways. It kind of short-hopped in, but Marla made the play and blocked the plate perfectly.”
The Savage Storm loaded the bases again in the fourth, this time with one out, off DSU pitcher Michelle Duncan. But Duncan fielded her position well by starting a 1-2-3 double play on a hot grounder to quash the threat.
“That’s what you get with Duncan,” Simkins said. “She forces a lot of ground balls and gives us a chance for a lot of double plays.”
DSU also turned a double play in the sixth and held that 3-1 lead going into the seventh. The Red Storm created a little noise in the top of the inning after a double by Chavez and a pair of walks loaded the bases. But Dixie State left them that way after relief pitcher Shayna Milam struck out Sheila Gelter to retire the side. It was a big moment as Gelter was having a monster night at the plate with three hits already.
SEO then came to the bottom of the seventh with its rally cap on. After an error and a walk, Jessica Simmons loaded the bases with a single to right field with just one out. Lacie Cook hit a hot grounder to Josey Hartman at shortstop. The DSU freshman made a diving stop, but her only play was at third, meaning a Southeastern Oklahoma base runner scored to make it 3-2 with runners still at first and second and two outs.
Duncan then got the final out by forcing Kramer, a .376 hitter, into a harmless ground ball to second base that was handled by Chavez to end the game.
“We played well, but we can play better,” Simkins said. “We need to get better because the teams are better and the games are going to get more difficult from here on.”
Dixie State, 50-8, battles Valdosta State (Ga.) Friday. The Blazers beat Wayne State (Mich.) 8-5 in nine innings Thursday. The winners on the other side of the bracket were Armstrong Atlantic (Ga.) and West Texas A&M.
Stats: DSU 3, SEO 2
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