SAINT LEO, Fla. – The Saint Leo softball team collected two more wins in the Saint Leo Challenge softball tournament, Saturday evening from University Stadium. The wins, which improved the Lions win streak to seven-straight, came when the Lions defeated the visiting Francis Marion Saints by a score of 5-2, and followed with a nail-biting 4-2 win over the region-rival Columbus State Cougars.
The spark for the Lions' late-night wins came from the offense, which collected nine hits, four walks, and four stolen bases for the day. In typical Saint Leo fashion, the pitching staff stood solid for the Lions in the grueling offensive-matchups, allowing just three earned runs and striking out seven.
In what has become a tradition for the year, the Lions were the first to put a run on the board against Francis Marion during the first game of the Saint Leo doubleheader. After three and a half scoreless innings, the first run came in the bottom of the fourth inning, when junior Brittany Ewing took a walk to give the Lions their first base-runner of the contest. Ewing then took advantage of the Saint's defense and stole second base to get into scoring position. With two outs and a 1-1 count, designated player Sarah Steiner then sent a single into centerfield, allowing Ewing to score from second base.
The visiting Saints answered back in the top of the fifth, when Cat Zalud singled up the middle on the first pitch of the inning. Two pitches later, Megan Smith, laid down a sacrifice bunt right in front of Lions' pitcher Alana Tabel, who got the out at first base, but not before Zalud advanced to second base. On the next pitch, Alana Tabel delivered a wild pitch past the outstretched glove of the Lions' catcher, Kylee Hardesty, allowing Zalud to take third base freely. The next batter, Lindsey Brown, then sent a single up the middle, which allowed Zalud to score the Saints' first run and Brown to advance to second base. Thanks to a solid defensive effort by the Lions, Tabel was able to effectively end the inning before any more Saints runners crossed home plate.
With the Lions unable to score again in the bottom of the fifth, the Saints come out in the top of the sixth inning with the bats swinging. On a 1-2 pitch from Tabel, Francis Marion's Tristan Faile doubled to right-centerfield to get the offense rolling. Two pitches later, senior Olivia Ferguson sent a scoring tripled down the right-field line to score Faile. After a quick Lions pitching change to put sophomore Ashey Ehlers on the mound, the Lions were able to escape the inning with just one run scored.
Down 2-1 in the bottom of the sixth inning, the Saint Leo offense launched their attack, scoring four runs and sealing the win for the Lions. After a four-pitch walk to Ewing, junior Chelsea Steedley reached on an error by the pitcher, allowing Ewing to advance to second base. The next two pitches, which the umpires determined to be illegal, allowed Ewing and Steedley to advance two bases apiece, scoring Ewing and tying the game. The next three runs came in a blur for the Lions, thanks to singles from both Kelsey LaNeave and Angela Kafalas, in addition to one Francis Marion error and aggressive base-running by the Lions.
With the Saints unable to put any runs on the board during the top of the seventh, the Lions took the ballgame by a score of 5-2.
In the next game of the Saint Leo doubleheader, the Lions took on the visiting Columbus State Cougars in regional action. Senior Megan Still got the start in the contest, tossing six solid innings before sophomore Ashley Ehlers came in to get the save.
The Cougars scored first in the late-night matchup, jumping out early in the top of the first inning. On the second pitch of the game, senior outfielder Kori Waugh sent a well-hit ball over the left-field fence and out of the park. The next batter, Branigan Wix walked to give Columbus State a base-runner, just before junior Casey Googe flied out to centerfield for the first Cougar out. On the next play, sophomore Taylor Turner sent a groundball to third base, which Saint Leo's Rachelle Gremo fielded cleanly before committing a throwing error and sending the ball into right-field. The error allowed Wix to score from first base, although the Cougars were unable to score anymore during the inning.
After such a solid offensive effort during the first game of the day, the Lions were slow to get the bats warmed up during their second outing, with their first runs coming in the bottom of the third inning. Junior Kylee Hardesty jumpstarted the attack for the Lions, leading off with an infield single. After freshman Brittany Martinez took first base as a pinch runner for Hardesty, sophomore Torrie Weindorf laid down a bunt that forced a Cougar error, allowing Weindorf to reach first base and Martinez to advance to second. Two batters later, the Lions' McKenzie Burns laid down a bunt single, advancing to second base on a throwing error by the Cougars catcher and allowing Martinez to score and Weindorf to take third base. On the next play, Ewing ripped a single to the third baseman, and in the Cougar's confusion, took second base freely while both Weindorf and Burns slid safely into home.
With the Cougars unable to answer back, the Lions tacked another run onto the scoreboard in the bottom of the fifth inning, when Burns led off the inning with an infield single. After Burns stole second, Ewing reached on an error by the Columbus State second-baseman, which allowed Burns to turn up her speed and score from second base.
The Lions return to action on Sunday, Feb. 24 when they take on Maryville University in the last game of the Saint Leo Challenge. First pitch is scheduled for 11:15 a.m.
For more on the Lions' softball program, please visit Saintleolions.com. Also, be sure to 'Follow' the Lions on Twitter and Instagram and 'Like' the Lions on Facebook.