– One of the most remarkable runs in NCAA softball history
continued on Sunday afternoon as North Georgia had to come from
behind late to top Francis Marion 9-5 and claim the program’s
second straight PBC tournament championship.
The No. 1 team in the country takes one more step in their historical season, running their record to 45-0 on the year, the only team undefeated at the NCAA Division I, Division II, or Division III level. Francis Marion, who played in their first title game in school history, falls to 34-14 on the year and will await an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.
The Saints have lived up to the hype in each of the last two years, after being selected as the PBC preseason favorite by the league’s head coaches, North Georgia has responded with back-to-back PBC regular season titles and two straight tournament championships.
Sarah Phillips and Laura Voyles were named the PBC tournament’s co-most valuable players, while Pilar Harden and Courtney McGuire were named to the All-Tournament team.
The Saints are now one victory shy of tying the PBC’s all-time mark for consecutive wins in the tournament, a record held by Kennesaw State in which the club won nine straight games before being defeated by Armstrong Atlantic 11-7 on April 21, 2001.
North Georgia has won eight straight tournament games dating back to a 9-0 shutout over Georgia Southwestern in the opening round of the 2009 tournament, while six of the eight games featured shutouts.
The Saints jumped on top in the second inning with a big four spot to take the lead. Natasha Willemse used an infield single to bring Katherine Martin home for the first run of the game, and Voyles came to the plate later in the frame with two runners on and belted her third home run of the tournament, and second three-run blast to cap the four-run inning.
Francis Marion answered in the fourth inning when Chelle Phillips led off the inning and singled to left field, but a fielding error sent the junior all the way around to third to base and she later scored on a sacrifice bunt from Ashley Jaramillo to make it a 4-1 game.
The Patriots would not back down in the fifth inning as the squad notched six hits in the frame, and pushed across four runs to give FMU the lead and hand North Georgia their first deficit of the tournament. Kat Beauvais drove home the first run of the inning, while Phillips and Jaramillo both followed with RBI singles, and Michaela Wolf sent a line drive to the fence in center field that turned out to be a sacrifice fly and cap the four-run frame.
North Georgia walked to the plate in the last of the fifth inning facing their latest deficit of the year and responded with four runs of their own, using a pair of two-run blasts from Leslee Smith and Harden to give the Saints the lead right back at 8-5.
Voyles came back in the seventh and launched her fourth home run of the tournament, a solo shot to right center, giving North Georgia all the runs they would need in a 9-5 victory.
Francis Marion put a pair of runners on base in the seventh, but Katherine Martin stabbed a line drive down the first base line to steal extra bases from Wolf and send North Georgia into celebration.
Phillips (38-0) picked up the victory, tossing all 7.0 innings and allowing four earned runs on nine hits while striking out five. Phillips ties the Peach Belt Conference’s all-time mark for wins in a career as the junior slides into a tie with GCSU’s Mandy Chandler as both right-handers now sit at 97 career victories.
A Peach Belt Conference team has also advanced to the Division II World Series in each of the last 11 seasons, a mark the Saints will try to extend as they enter the NCAA Regional round of the playoffs looking to advance to the National Championships for the second consecutive season.
The Saints will sit and wait 26 days until they open play at the 2010 Southeast Regional at location yet to be determined. North Georgia will be one of eight teams split into two four-team regionals with both winners facing off in a best two of three Super Regional series.