DAHLONEGA, GA – The 3rd-ranked North Georgia softball team split a doubleheader on Saturday afternoon against 22nd-ranked Armstrong Atlantic, dropping the opener 2-0 before coming back and salvaging a split with a 5-1 nightcap victory at Haines & Carolyn Hill Stadium in Peach Belt Conference action.
With the doubleheader split, the Saints move to 39-9 overall on the year and 15-3 in Peach Belt Conference action. North Georgia reduces their magic number to claim the regular season PBC title to just two with two games remaining on the conference slate.
With North Georgia's magic number currently sitting at two, the Saints can clinch their third straight PBC regular season title with a combination of any two North Georgia wins or Columbus State losses. CSU travels to Augusta State on Sunday afternoon for a doubleheader, while the Saints host Francis Marion Monday afternoon to close out the league schedule.
Armstrong Atlantic is now 27-9 on the year and 12-6 in league action as they have now been eliminated from the championship race, but hold strong to the third seed in the upcoming PBC Tournament.
Major League Baseball Hall of Famer Phil Niekro was on hand for Saturday's doubleheader, as the 318-game winner threw out for the first pitch in front of a near capacity crowd.
Game one was all about mistakes as a pair of North Georgia miscues led to two Armstrong Atlantic runs in a 2-0 victory. With runners on first and second in the third inning, a passed ball eluded Natasha Willemse, allowing Erin Billingsley to scamper home all the way from second and give the Pirates a 1-0 lead.
An error in the seventh inning plated an insurance run for Armstrong Atlantic as Ansley Williams fielded a bunt and fired an errant throw home, allowing Meagan Qualls to race home for the second and final run of the game.
The Saints managed just three hits in the contest, two of which came off the bat of Kasey Knight, but North Georgia was never able to push across a run. The Saints left the bases loaded in the third inning as Pilar Harden came to the plate with two outs and the bases juiced, but the junior grounded out to end the threat.
Megan Barnwell (19-5) was the winner, tossing a complete game three-hit shutout, while Jessica Coan (20-4) was the tough luck loser, lasting all 7.0 innings and allowing four hits and no earned runs, while walking four and striking out 10.
The Saints finally got the bats rolling in the second game, scoring a pair of first-inning runs to jump out on top. With two runners on, Sarah Johnson grounded out to score the first run of the game, and Harden followed with a two-out single down the first base line to send Knight racing home and give North Georgia a 2-0 lead.
More fielding mistakes for the Saints in the third inning handed the Pirates another run, as two errors allowed Keela Scott to trot home and cut the North Georgia in half at 2-1.
The Saints responded in the third inning however, as Katherine Martin and Kayla Martin both produced RBI hits in the inning to push three runs across and give North Georgia all the runs they would need in a 5-1 victory.
Sarah Phillips (15-4) was the winning pitcher, recording a complete game victory and allowing no earned runs on six hits. Shelby Duff (4-4) was the loser, allowing 10 hits and five earned runs in all 6.0 innings of work.
The Saints return to action on Sunday afternoon, welcoming Young Harris College to town for a non-conference doubleheader with the Mountain Lions. The games will serve as senior day, as Sarah Phillips, Natasha Willemse, Kasey Knight, and Kayla Martin will all be honored following the second game of the doubleheader.