Written by Joe Hubbs. Media by Logan Nelson.
A spectacular, record setting season concluded Saturday for the Greenville College Softball team, as the Panthers took second place in the SLIAC Tournament in Elsah, Ill.
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The Panthers, who finished the regular season winning 10 of their last 11 games, entered the tournament as the second seed with a 15-3 conference record. In the first game the Panthers faced Spalding, and suffered a close 4-0 loss to put them in the loser’s bracket in the double elimination tournament. The first couple of innings were close as senior Ashley Woodrome held Spalding to one hit in two innings. However, the powerhouse offense that had driven the Panthers all season long never broke out in the first game of the tournament, and can only be accredited to slight “nerves” in the heated atmosphere, as freshman Tiffany Samsoe put it. Spalding would score two runs in the top of the third inning with an RBI double by Kelsey McDowell and an RBI single by Peyton French. Spalding would tack on two more runs in the sixth with a two run homerun by Becca Mouser. Greenville tried to fight back in the bottom of the sixth with a two out rally. After a single by senior, Mattie Fairchild, Samsoe hit a triple, but Fairchild was thrown out at the plate trying to get the Panthers on the board. Woodrome finished all seven innings, allowing 4 runs and striking out three, but it was Spalding’s starting pitcher, Kelci Flener who received the win. Striking out six in seven innings, Flener only allowing five hits, two of which came off the bat of Samsoe.
In the second game played on the same day, the Panthers regrouped and defeated Westminster 7-2. Westminster rattled the Panthers a little in the first inning with a two run homerun by Allison Biggs, but the Panthers had no intentions on giving up. “It was a do-or-die game. If we didn’t start hitting, we were going to be done.” Sophomore catcher, Jessie Finke said. Greenville loaded the bases in the bottom of the inning with Bryn McKie reaching on an error, and Fairchild and Becca Oldham both being hit by a pitch. With the bases loaded, Jessica Laubecher brought in McKie with an RBI ground out. The Panthers added two more runs in the second inning with a two run single by McKie to bring in Shannon Elbe who had doubled, and Shelby Cash who reached base on a walk. Until the sixth inning, the Panthers maintained a one run lead, secured by the dominant pitching performance of freshman, Becca Oldham. When the sixth inning rolled around however, the Panthers burst out with the prolific offense that everyone had grown accustomed to seeing all season. Finke started the inning off with a walk and was followed by a single by Elbe. A sacrifice bunt by Cash set up McKie, who doubled to bring in one run. Fairchild then hit a sacrifice fly to bring in Elbe, and Samsoe followed by singling in McKie. To cap off the four run inning, Oldham singled Samsoe to third, and Samsoe would score on a passed ball. “We came together more in the second game,” Samsoe said, “We knew it was our last chance.” Oldham would finish six innings and get the win, only surrendering the two runs in the first. With a five run lead, junior, Hannah Burger took over in the seventh and shut down Westminster, sending the Panthers to the second round.
On Friday, the Panthers found themselves facing off against Spalding yet again. Being beaten by the Golden Eagles in the first game of the tournament, the Panthers were pumped and determined to show how they could perform under pressure. “We wanted to go out and show them we belonged here.” Finke said.
“We had already [beaten] them twice in the regular season, so we were ready.” Cash added. Greenville rocked starting pitcher, Cortney Miller in the first inning for three runs, which ended up being all the Panthers needed for a 3-1 triumph over Spalding. McKie lead the bottom of the first off for the Panthers with a single, and was brought in immediately afterwards with an RBI double by Fairchild. After Samsoe followed Fairchild with a double of her own, Oldham brought in Fairchild, grounding into a fielder’s choice. Samsoe then scored on a passed ball to give the Panthers a 3-0 lead. Kelci Flener, who shut the Panthers down in the first game of the tournament, replaced Miller in the second inning and once again held the Panthers in check. It didn’t matter though, because Panthers starter, Hannah Burger, pitched a masterful game. Burger completed all seven innings, striking out two and surrendering but one run on five hits. “She definitely pushed us,” Samsoe said, “She did phenomenal.”
“It’s always the pressure situations that she has succeeded in.” Finke added. With the win, the Panthers found themselves competing against division rival Fontbonne in the championship game, the only conference team they did not beat in the regular season. Greenville would have had to beat Fontbonne twice, but could not blow past the Griffins in the first game, suffering a 6-1 loss. Fontbonne slowly built up a lead throughout the game, but the Panthers could not catch up due to the unhittable stuff of Fontbonne’s starter, Madison Leonard. Leonard struck out ten Panthers hitters and only gave up one run in a complete game win for the conference championship. Fairchild tried everything in her power to give the Panthers chances, going four for four with the Panthers only RBI on a solo homerun in the top of the seventh inning. Unfortunately the Panthers were not able to mount the comeback and win the tournament, but spirits were still high as they finished in second place and set a new Greenville record in wins since joining the NCAA. “We knew going into it, it would be a tough game, but we definitely felt accomplished. Making it as one of the top two teams was an honor in itself.” Samsoe said.
“Of course we were all bummed out, but at the same time we were proud because it was such a big change from a year ago.” Cash said.
Heading into the offseason, the Lady Panthers have high hopes for repeating their prowess in the conference. Only losing three seniors, the Panthers bring back a core that contributed 23 homeruns and 231 RBI’s on the season. “We’re going to miss them (the seniors), but we have the players to step up and play just as well.” Cash said. As of now the 2014 Panthers Softball team is one of the best all time with a 30-13 mark. For the next couple of years though, the Panthers are in good hands to repeat their 30 win season and possibly even surpass the mark.