SALEM, VA – North Georgia faced an early 3-0 deficit on Thursday evening against 11th-ranked Indiana (Pa.), but the Saints rallied with nine unanswered runs to storm back and take a 9-4 victory on the opening day of the Division II World Series at the Salem Sports complex.
The Saints improve to 53-10 overall on the year, and are now a perfect 3-0 all-time in the opening round of the World Series. Indiana (Pa.) falls to 38-7 in their first-ever appearance in the National Championships.
The Crimson Hawks jumped out to a 3-0 lead thanks in part to a two-run first frame. Dee Eppinger got things started with an infield single. After moving around to third, she and Marisa Leslie came home on Kristen Tunno's shot to right for the 2-0 advantage.
Indiana (Pa.) added to its margin in the second when Taylor Rozantz scored as Eppinger reached on an error.
The Saints evened things in the third when Natasha Willemse led things off with a walk and promptly moved to third when Ansley Williams drilled a pitch to the gap in right center. Kasey Knight follow with a groundout to plate a run, and with two outs, Pilar Harden blasted a two-run homer over the center field fence, knotting the game at three. For Harden, the junior slugger has now homered in four consecutive games, dating back to the opening game of the Southeast Super Regional.
North Georgia took their first lead of the game in the fifth inning when Willemse again led things off, this time reaching on a bunt. Williams would once again provide the offense, following with a double to left field, and with the bases loaded and two outs, Harden drilled a double up the middle to plate two more runs and give the Saints a 5-3 advantage, a lead they would never relinquish.
The offense erupted in the sixth inning, scoring four runs on five hits, highlighted by a solo blast off the bat of Hilary Cox, a 260 foot shot over the wall in left field to give the junior her 13th home run of the year.
The Crimson Hawks pushed across a run in the seventh but could not complete the comeback.
Sarah Phillips (21-5) came in for Jessica Coan to pick up the win for the Saints, allowing just one hit and striking out three in 4.0 innings of relief work. Erin Holloway (27-4) went the distance for the Crimson hawks and suffered the loss, allowing 10 hits and all nine North Georgia runs.
With game times being shuffled due to expected inclement weather, North Georgia will now advance in the winner's bracket and will take on top-ranked Alabama Huntsville on Friday morning at 11:30 a.m. Indiana (Pa.) will face Midwestern State on Saturday afternoon at 2:30 p.m. in an elimination game.