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Schaffer’s Blast Completes Vikings’ Comeback, Sends Augustana To Super Regional

 

WINONA, Minn. – It was two defeats at the hands of Winona State that ended Augustana‘s conference championship hopes, but it was the Vikings who got the last laugh when they surged back from a seven-run deficit to defeat the NCAA Central Region host Warriors by a final score of 9-8 on Sunday afternoon.

Jordan Schaffer’s two-out, three-run home run in the seventh inning capped off the comeback to lift Augustana (46-13) to their second NCAA Super Regional appearance in three years. Winona State (48-9) dashed Augustana’s hopes of winning the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference tournament one week ago when the Warriors defeated the Vikings twice in the championship game.

Augustana was in an eerily similar situation on Sunday when they recorded two wins — one of which was a 2-1 victory over WSU on Saturday — to advance to the NCAA Central Region 1 finals, but it was Winona State who found their way back to take on Augustana in the regional championship game. With double-elimination format being used, WSU needed to defeat the Vikings twice to win the regional and it looked like they were on their way to doing so.

The Vikings went quietly in the first, but Winona State roared out to a big lead, much like in the first of the two conference championship games. Five hits for the Warriors produced five first-inning runs and Augustana would have to come from behind for the third straight game.

It wasn’t until the third inning that the Vikings would find their way on the scoreboard. Jenelle Trautmann singled in Maddie Merriam who reached on an error and made the Warriors pay for the mistake by finding her way on third and scoring when Trautmann roped a ball to centerfield.

Also the starting pitcher, Trautmann (27-6) settled down after a raucous first inning, shutting out Winona State the next two innings, but the Warriors would pad their lead over the next two stanzas. WSU manufactured a run in the fourth then used a solo homerun from WSU second baseman Jenny Nelson and a pair of base hits to score two in the fifth, pushing their lead to 8-1 after five complete innings.

With just six outs left in their first crack at the regional title, Augustana’s bats finally awoke. Friday-night hero Sarah Kennedy opened a five-run sixth inning with a double and scored on Trautmann’s single. A Lindsay Spanton single preceded Carley Pickett reaching on an error to load the bases. Carley Pickett then used her bat to help the Vikings — she earned the win in the first two regional games — with a double to left center scoring two more, cutting the Winona State lead to 8-4.

Schaffer then singled up the middle to score another and force WSU starting pitcher Ashley Walker out of the game. Hanna Lythberg (22-4) took over looking to stifle the Viking bats like she did in the second of the two NSIC championship games. Augustana wouldn’t let that happen as Merriam walked to load the bases and Mackenzie Alstott drilled a ball up the middle to score one more, trimming the lead to 8-6 in favor of host Winona State.

The hot Viking bats quickly cooled as they couldn’t muster any more runs while the bases were loaded. Kennedy looked to keep the rally that she started going, but Lythberg induced a ground ball that she scooped up and halted Augustana’s scoring run with a 1-2-3 double play to end the five-run Viking sixth inning.

Winona State was primed for a couple insurance runs after two one-out singles, but it was their turn for an inning-ending double play. Nelson drove a ball deep to centerfield with her second homerun of the day in mind, but Alstott camped underneath just shy of the fence for the second out of the inning. Alstott’s throw was too late to catch Reed Karsten who advanced to third on the play, but the Vikings appealed to second and the umpire ruled that Karsten had left second base before Alstott completed the catch and Augustana would remain down 8-6 with their unconventional double play.

Augustana picked up right where they left off in the sixth with Trautmann and Spanton singling to start the final inning. Peterson would reach on a fielder’s choice, keeping runners at first and second while trimming Augustana’s outs to two remaining before the end of the game. Pickett fell victim to a strikeout, darkening Augustana’s light of hope, but it wasn’t done.

On a 1-0 pitch, Schaffer launched a ball high and deep to left centerfield — Schaffer admitted that it appeared to have too high of a trajectory for a homerun — but the ball continued to carry clearing the fence, for her fourth game-winning home run of the season.

Traumtann was substituted for a pinch-runner for the second time after she singled to start the seventh inning so she couldn’t return to the circle to pitch, but that left the door open for Pickett to ensure the 9-8 lead would stay intact.

Pickett was tied for the national lead in saves entering the NCAA postseason, and her services were needed again. After a leadoff walk, Pickett’s ninth save of the season seemed to be in jeopardy, but she responded by getting three of the next four batters out to send the Vikings to the Super Regional.

Regional No. 7 seed Southeastern Oklahoma State pulled off a series of upsets that earned them the NCAA Central Region 2 title and the right to play Augustana next weekend for a shot at making the NCAA Championships.

 

Augustana Vikings, 2014 NCAA Division II Central Region softball champions
Augustana College

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Courtesy:  Augustana College

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