CLEARWATER, Fla. – The Saint Leo Lions softball team (6-5) ended the three-day Eckerd Invitational with a loss to the Flagler Saints (6-1), Sunday morning from Eddie C. Moore Complex. The grueling eight-inning loss knocked the Lions' record to 6-5 for the year.
The evenly-matched softball contest was highlighted by offense and defense from both dugouts, as the Saints and Lions battled it out for a win.
Freshman pitcher Alana Tabel took the mound for the Lions in the loss, pitching a solid four innings before senior Megan Still took her place in the circle. Still, who pitched three innings, was eventually relieved when sophomore Ashley Ehlers took the mound for the Lions in the bottom of the eighth inning. Although Ehlers recorded only one out in the tie-breaker inning before Flagler scored to end the game, the Lions pitching staff combined for two clutch strikeouts while only allowing seven hits.
The first run of the game went to Saint Leo early on, when Flagler faltered during the first inning. Sophomore McKenzie Burns led off the inning for the Lions with an infield single, just before she was caught stealing on her way to second base. The next Saint Leo batter, freshman Jessica LoBianco, lined out to the pitcher for the second recorded out of the game. Stepping up to the plate next, junior Chelsey Steedley took a free base after getting hit by a pitch and junior Sarah Steiner followed with a walk. The next pitch featured a Saint Leo double-steal attempt, which resulted in a Flagler throwing error and free pass to home base for Steedley.
The next runs did not come until the bottom of the fourth inning, when Flagler was able to capitalize on back-to-bat hits and score two runs. The inning began with a walk from Christen Moon, who was eventually replaced by Whitney Little as a pinch runner. The next batter, Kirstie Flink, then singled to right field and both runners advanced to the next base on the throw from Saint Leo right fielder, Jessica LoBianco. With no outs and runners on second and third, Flagler center-fielder Melanie Oliver then ripped a single to right field, scoring both Little and Flink to put Flager ahead, 2-1. Lions' pitcher Alana Tabel was able to shut the Flagler offense down for the rest of the inning, however, but the damage had already been done.
Saint Leo was able to answer back in the top of the sixth, when senior Rachelle Gremo sent a triple screaming to the right-centerfield fence. On the next play, junior Brittany Ewing sacrificed bunted to the pitcher, allowing Gremo to take home and tie the game.
The score remained tied at 2-2 until the end of seven full innings, which led to a Texas-tiebreaker runner on second base for the Lions. Unfortunately, the Lions weren't able to advance that runner, and Saint Leo went into the bottom of the eighth inning with the score still tied, 2-2. The Flager Saints received the same tie-breaker runner on second base in the form of Christen Moon, who was sent to third on a sacrifice bunt by the next batter, Molly Whittington. On the next play, Flagler's Melanie Oliver reached on a hard-hit infield single, which resulted in Moon taking home plate, and Flagler taking home the win.
As a team, the Lions combined for nine hits on the day, in addition to five sacrifice hits, four stolen bases and three walks.
The Saint Leo Lions will return to the clay on Friday, Feb. 15, when they take on Missouri S&T in the first game of the Saint Leo Invitational. First pitch is set for 6 p.m from University Stadium.
For more information regarding the Lions softball team, please visit saintleolions.com. Also, be sure to 'Like' the Lions on Facebook and 'Follow' the Lions on Twitter and Instagram.