SALEM, VA – The North Georgia softball team saw their season come to an end on Saturday evening, as Saginaw Valley rallied late to come away with a 7-1 victory over the Saints at the third round of the NCAA Division II National Championships at the Moyer Sports Complex.
Saginaw Valley (42-17) advances to the final four of the World Series on Sunday afternoon against UC San Diego at 12-noon. The Cardinals will be forced to beat the Tritons twice to move on to Monday's National Championship game.
The Saints end the season with the most wins in school history at 53-12, going 1-2 at the Division II College World Series for the second straight season. North Georgia is now 22-9 all-time in the NCAA Tournament, and 4-6 in their three straight appearances in the National Championships.
The Cardinals manufactured the game's first run without the benefit of a hit, using a leadoff walk from Jill Peterson, and after a sacrifice bunt and wild pitch moved Peterson to third, Kailah Happ lifted a fly to centerfield to give Saginaw Valley an early 1-0 advantage.
The North Georgia offense could do little right the first time through the lineup, sending nine players to the plate and not recording a hit, while falling via the strikeouts in five of those plate appearances.
The second time through the order proved to be a different story however, as North Georgia finally got on the board in the fifth inning when Katherine Martin led off and drilled a solo shot over the wall in left field to knot the score at a run apiece. Martin's sixth home of the year was just the second hit of the game for the Saints, as the junior recorded her 35th run batted in on the season with the blast.
Saginaw Valley opened their half of the sixth inning with a leadoff single down the left field line to get a rally started, and then the North Georgia defense collapsed, allowing a pop fly to fall in the infield and a passed ball moved two a pair of runners into scoring position.
Marcy Medina then forced a full count at the plate before lifting a sacrifice fly to left field to bring Natalie Wellman home to make it a 2-1 Cardinal advantage. SVSU was not done there, as Monica Gathright guided a seeing-eye single through the left side to plate one more and cap a two-run frame to give Saginaw Valley a 3-1 sixth-inning lead.
The Cardinals continued to pour on runs in the seventh inning, using four hits to bring four runs to plate and put the Saints away. Wellman brought the first run of the inning home with a single, and Medina and Gathright followed with back-to-back RBI base-knocks to extend the lead to six at 7-1.
In the last of the seventh inning, Hilary Cox and Callie Fernandez reached on back-to-back fielding errors to create some life in the Saints' dugout, but North Georgia would leave the bases loaded as the Cardinals survived and advanced.
Sarah Phillips (21-6) went the distance for the Saints in the loss, allowing nine hits and seven runs, while walking four and striking out 11. Jade Fulton (31-10) picked up the win for the Cardinals, giving up just four hits and fanning 10 North Georgia batters.
The Saints end the year as Peach Belt Conference regular season and tournament champions for a third straight season, while capturing another Southeast Regional title, and moving on to the Division II World Series.