TYLER, TX. -- It was an epic stare down between two softball giants, a heavyweight battle to the final bell.
The Ephs didn't blink.
Facing the end of its season, the Williams College softball team stayed alive when first-year Mara Kipnis lined an RBI-single with one out in the bottom of the 11th inning that scored Casey Pelz for a 3-2 walk-off win over top-seeded St. Thomas at Suddenlink Field Friday at the 2019 NCAA Div. National Championship.
The Ephs improved to 39-6 overall, tying the most wins in a single season in the program's history. They will play Trine at 2 p.m. (EST) Saturday in another elimination game. The victory in the national championship round was the third-ever in Williams history.
"That," said Ephs' senior co-captain Pelz, "was fun."
Pelz drew a lead-off walk in the 11th to start the game-inning rally. Tommie starter Kierstin Anderson-Glass, who had thrown every pitch in the game, went to 3-0 on Eph Riley Salvo before being replaced by Kendall Hopkins, who completed the walk to Salvo. Eph senior Jill Jenkin then dropped down a sacrifice bunt to move the runners to second and third. Hopkins then walked senior Kristina Alvarado to load the bases. She went to 1-0 on Kipnis before being replaced by Isabelle Marketon in the circle. Marketon went to 3-2 on Kipnis, who lined the next pitch over shortstop into center field for the game-winning hit.
Williams received a fantastic start from junior Kirstin Mapes, who went the first six-plus frames and allowed just two runs, both coming in the top of the first inning. But a lead-off double off the top of the fence in center by Jenna Bromen to start the seventh followed by an error on a sacrifice bunt put Tommie runners on the corners with no outs. Ephs' head coach Kris Herman called on junior Rebecca Duncan to take over in the circle, and she did take over, getting a pop up back to the circle, a one-hop comebacker back to the circle and, after a walk loaded the bases, a fly out to left fielder Jill Jenkin to end the threat.
"We've had a bend don't break operation really all season but especially the last three weeks where we've gotten behind and really battled back," Herman said. "I am really proud of every single player on our team."
The Ephs nearly won the game in the bottom of the frame. With two outs, Kipnis singled. Jessica Kim then ripped a shot down toward third base. Tommie third baseman Elise Barnes made a diving attempt but the ball glanced off her glove and trickled down the left-field line in foul territory. Kipnis moved to third as Kim raced into second with a double. Mackenzie Murphy then lined a shot to right, but it was caught for the final out.
In the top of the eighth inning, the Tommies had a runner on first with two outs when Bromen singled to left and Rachel Suter dropped down a two-out bunt single that loaded the bases. Duncan then retired UST lead-off hitter Melissa Barry on a fly to Jenkin in left.
In the Williams ninth inning, Salvo led off with a single to right. Azaria Vargas pinch-ran for her. With one out, Alvarado sacrificed Vargas to second. Kipnis drew a walk, but Anderson-Glass retired Kim to end the threat.
Duncan improved to 16-3, throwing five shutout innings in relief of Mapes. She retired the final 10 batters she faced in order. She allowed two hits and walked two in the win.
Williams trailed 2-0 after a half-inning. Arguably the biggest hit may have come in the third inning when Kim, batting with one out and nobody on, hit a gargantuan home run to straightaway center field to cut the deficit in half, 2-1. The Ephs tied the game in the fifth when Kipnis singled leading off. With one out, Murphy lofted a foul fly behind third base that Tommie shortstop Marketon made a great diving catch on for the second out, but Kipnis alertly tagged up and moved to second. That proved critical when Duncan lined a two-out single to right center that scored the first-year with the tying run.
Mapes went six-plus for the Ephs, allowing seven hits and two runs, both earned, while walking two and striking out two. Williams had nine hits in the win, led by Kipnis, who went 3 for 5 with an RBI and a run scored. Kim was 2 for 5 with a home run, RBI and run scored. Duncan was 2 for 5 with an RBI. Salvo was 1 for 2 with two walks. Murphy had a triple.
Duncan had seven putouts and four assists with no errors in the field, while left fielder Jenkin had seven putouts. The Ephs were sharper on defense, turning one double play and throwing two runners out on the base paths. In the first after the Tommies had scored twice, Duncan snared a liner at second and tossed it to Murphy at first to get the runner. The runner was originally ruled safe but on appeal that call was overturned. In the fifth, St. Thomas had a runner on second with one out. On a grounder to third, Pelz faked a throw to first and fired to Duncan at second to catch the runner. The next batter singled, sending a runner to third. Mapes cut off Alvarado's throw to home and the batter was caught in a rundown. The runner on third then broke for home and Pelz turned and fired to Salvo at the plate in time for the tag out that ended the inning.