|Mike Davenport||Laura Voyles||Sarah Phillips||Leslee Smith|
– The North Georgia Saints finished off a wet weekend in
Dahlonega with a 5-0 win over Francis Marion to claim the NCAA
Division II Southeast Regional title Sunday night at Haines &
Carolyn Hill Stadium.
The Saints, who are now 48-0 and the No. 1 team in the nation, will take on Lenoir-Rhyne in Southeast Super Regional beginning Friday at site to be announced Monday morning.
The Saints went 3-0 over the weekend to earn their second consecutive regional championship under head coach Mike Davenport. The Saints not only had to deal with tough competition on the field but they also had to battle weather problems that plagued the regional all three days.
“The players probably handled it better than the coaching staff,” said Davenport. “I need to tip my hat to the field crew. All four teams showed a lot of character and competed until the end. You don’t have to go to Division I for good college softball. We’ve got some of the best in the Peach Belt.”
The win over the Patriots was the Saints’ sixth of the season. “Every time we play them, its an absolute battle,” said Davenport.
FMU head coach Stacey Vallee went with right-hander Cea Knox on the mound. Knox pitched five innings of relief in the teams’ game on Saturday, limiting the Saints to one hit.
North Georgia put a pair of runners on base to start the game but Knox got out of the jam thanks to a pair ground balls and a strikeout.
Phillips needed just eight pitches to get through the first inning, striking out a pair and getting the final out on a shallow fly ball to Lauren Dykes in left field.
FMU got their first hit of the game in the second, on a bloop single by Knox, but Phillips struck out Jessica Hogan to end the inning, her fourth strikeout of the game.
Knox didn’t give up a hit until the third when Dykes reached on a one-out single. Courtney McGuire followed with a line drive single to right, with Dykes taking third on the play. McGuire broke for second when then ball was thrown to third and was safe, but McGuire tried to score on the throw to second and was gunned down by Ashley Jaramillo at the plate. Leslee Smith grounded out to the pitcher to end the scoring threat.
In the top of the fourth, the Saints got the offense going against Knox. Hilary Cox started things with a single to right and Katherine Martin doubled to right, after fouling off two bunt attempts to put runners at second and third.
Pilar Harden broke up the scoreless game, driving in pinch runner Victoria St. Clair on a fielder’s choice. One out later, Voyles walked to load the bases bringing Dykes to the plate. On a 2-2 pitch, Dykes, who was leading the team with a .389 average coming into the game, laced a liner up the middle to score a pair of runs to push the lead to 3-0.
Kasey Knight continued her stellar defensive play during the regional with an outstanding catch to end the bottom of the fourth inning. Voyles sprinted to shallow center field and made a sliding catch with her back to home plate.
Phillips continued to cruise on the mound, getting the Patriots in order in the fifth inning on a strikeout, a soft liner to Knight at shortstop and a pop up to catcher Natasha Willemse.
With one out in the sixth, Voyles drilled a shot up the gap in right for a triple. One out later, Courtney McGuire lifted a deep fly ball to right field, a shot that short-hopped the fence for a run-scoring stand up triple.
Phillips made quick work of FMU in the sixth, striking out Destinea Schneider to start the inning and getting Beauvais and Chelle Phillips on ground ball outs.
If the Saints needed an insurance run, Hilary Cox delivered it in the top of the seventh. On a 3-2 pitch, Cox ripped a fastball deep into the trees behind the left field fence to stretch the lead to 5-0.
FMU opened the seventh inning with a pair of hits but Phillips worked out of trouble to protect the shutout. Phillips got Birchmeier on a soft line to Voyles and then handcuffed Knox with a pitch that resulted in a ground ball out. With runners at second and third, Jessica Hogan hit a line drive up the middle but Pilar Harden made a sliding catch to end the game.
Phillips improved to 41-0 as she allowed four hits with no walks and eight strikeouts. The win was Phillips’ 100th as a member of the Saints.
“In the first inning, I started strong and build on that from there,” said Phillips. “I threw more off-speed stuff to keep them off-balance; to keep them guessing. I threw a lot of fastballs against them earlier in the season so I had to use more off-speed pitches.
Dykes had two hits and two RBI, with McGuire finishing with two hits and an RBI. Cox had two hits, scored a run and drove in a run, while Voyles and Martin each had a hit.
Jaramillo, Knox, Michaela Wolf and Destinea Schneider had the four this for the Patriots. Knox allowed five runs on eight hits and five walks while striking out four in seven innings of work.
Voyles summed up the feeling in the Saints dugout as they head to the Super Regional.
“It’s awesome,” said Voyles. “At the beginning of the season I said I wanted to have no regrets and so far I don’t have any. To be 48-0 is amazing. It’s almost surreal. We’re team, we’re a family when we step on the field.”
Davenport said the team was going to enjoy the win a little while before worrying about Lenoir-Rhyne.
“We’ll start worrying about them on Tuesday,” said Davenport. “We’re going to enjoy this one a little bit.”