Tuscaloosa, Ala. – Aly Schneider drove in the game-winning run in the top of the eighth inning and No. 24 USC Upstate opened the Tuscaloosa Regional with a 5-3 win over No. 21 South Alabama Friday afternoon at Rhoads Stadium.
Upstate improved to 46-7 on the year with the win and advances to the winner's bracket final Saturday at 1:00 p.m. CT, 2:00 p.m. ET against the winner of Friday's game between No. 5 Alabama, the national No. 2 seed, and SIU Edwardsville. South Alabama fell to 40-13 and will face the loser of the game between Alabama and SIU Edwardsville.
"For us to come out here and throw up some numbers and get some hits really gave our team some confidence and showed that we belong," said Upstate head coach Chris Hawkins. "I feel really good about what we just accomplished. South Alabama has extremely good pitching. For us to squeak out a win was pretty big."
Upstate used Shellie Robinson's bat and speed to open a 1-0 lead in the top of the first inning against South Alabama starter Hannah Campbell. The junior slapped a single to right and stole second with no outs. She moved to third on a two-out ground out and scored on Maddison Kieffer's RBI single to give the Spartans the early advantage.
South Alabama answered in the bottom of the first. The Jaguars put runners on the corners with two outs when Julie Moss hit a little pop down the line about 10 feet out of the batter's box toward third base. Spartan catcher Erin Schattle made a diving attempt to catch the ball, but it hit the ground first and Blair Johnson scored from third to tie the game at 1-1.
Kieffer came up big defensively in the bottom of the second, saving a potential run-saving hit. With a runner on second and two outs, Stephanie Pilkington slapped a ball shaded toward the middle of the infield. Kieffer ranged to her left and made a diving stop. She got up to her knees and threw out Pilkington at first to end the inning and keep the game tied at 1-1
Kieffer was a catalyst as Upstate took the lead in the fourth inning. She led off the inning with a single to left center. Hayley Reinfeld followed with a bunt single and the runners moved to second and third. Schattle brought in a run on a ground out to the left side of the infield to give the Spartans a 2-1 lead as Kieffer scampered home. The Spartans put runners on second and third again with two outs, but couldn't push anything else across.
South Alabama attempted to rally in the bottom of the fourth. The Jaguars loaded the bases with two outs and Johnson at the plate with a 3-1 count. However, Upstate starter Anna Miller hung tough and got a ground out to end the threat and keep the Spartans in front, 2-1.
Upstate made it a 3-1 lead in the top of the sixth, manufacturing a run as it had the previous two times it scored. Hayley Reinfeld doubled down the line in left to lead off the inning. She moved to third on a ground out. Dana Landers then came up and hit a short chopper to the right side and beat out the throw to score Reinfeld from third. The Spartans later loaded the bases but could not cause any further damage and headed to the bottom of the sixth with a two-run lead.
Like it had done in the bottom of the first, South Alabama answered to tie the game in the bottom of the sixth inning. Pilkington slapped a two-out single and Kaitlyn Griffith hit a two-run homer to tie the game at 3-3. It was Griffith's first home run in the last 49 games.
The game went to extra innings with a daunting task for both teams. Upstate entered the eighth 3-0 on the year in extra inning games. South Alabama stood 6-0 this season in games with free softball.
Upstate put runners on second and third with one out in the top of the eighth after an error, Schattle's second sacrifice bunt of the game and single and stolen base by Landers. With the infield playing in, Schneider slapped a flare into shallow right center to plate Meredith Barnes from third with the go-ahead run. After Shellie Robinson was intentionally walked for the second straight at-bat, Kendall Settlemyre lifted a long fly ball that was caught at the wall. However, she drove in a run on the sacrifice fly to give the Spartans a 5-3 advantage.
"I am there whenever Coach needs me," said Schneider. "I come up and do what I can. On the last hit, the pressure was on but I backed off the plate, got the hit and scored the run."
Miller remained in the game and pitched an effective eighth to secure the win for the Spartans. Despite allowing a one-out walk, the senior got a strikeout and fly out to end the game. She went the distance and improved to 19-5. She allowed three runs on eight hits with six strikeouts. Campbell took the loss for South Alabama, falling to 17-6.
"You have to go out with composure, every pitch counts," said Miller. "There is not a pitch that I am just throwing to throw, every pitch has a purpose. We played with composure and executed out game plan. Coach Hawkins told me to throw every pitch with purpose and hit my spots. At the end of the day when they score runs on me, I have an incredible offense to back me up. "
Landers was 3-for-4 with a run and RBI to lead Upstate at the plate. Both Kieffer and Reinfeld collected a pair of hits with Kieffer driving in a run and scoring a run, while Reinfeld scored.
"I'm shocked we got 11 hits off of Campbell, shocked," said Hawkins. "When Anna gets ahead in the count things go a little more smoothly and we don't have to get as many hits. We have a good defense and they made plays. Anna is the most positive person I have ever met and I know the next time she goes out there that she is going to battle like she did today. Anna battled today."