Kingsport, Tenn. – Possibly the longest game in Appalachian Athletic Conference Softball Tournament history finally came to a close Friday afternoon when the No. 2 seed Bryan College Lions were eliminated from the event and had their season come to an end at the hands of No. 6 seed Truett McConnell University with a 4-3 final. The grueling battle had the first pitch thrown out just after 1pm on Thursday at the Brickyard Ball Fields in Kingsport, Tenn. The Bears of Truett McConnell managed to get a runner on in the top of the first but couldn't score as Bryan took their turn in the bottom of the frame. At 1:30pm the lightning started and thunder began to roll, which gave way to the first game stoppage. Play resumed a few minutes after 2pm, but before play could actually start the rain poured down. The delay led to an estimated start time at 7pm, but the condition of the fields wouldn't allow any more play the rest of the evening. The plans were to begin at 9am Friday morning, but the condition of the fields still proved unplayable. It wasn't until 11am that the Lions and Bears could resume the elimination game and close out the first inning of play.
Bryan was the first to get on the board with a trey of runs in the bottom of the second. Hannah O'Shields (SO/LaFayette, Ga.) provided a leadoff single to shallow left and advanced to second when Kayla Hayes (FR/Dresden, Tenn.) laid down a sacrifice bunt and was out at first. Next up was Ashley Brown (JR/Pikeville, Tenn.) who singled down the left field line to put O'Shields in scoring position at third. The throw to prevent O'Shields from scoring allowed Brown to shift to second. With only one out, Lion's pitcher Courtney Petty (FR/Lebanon, Tenn.) stepped up the plate and wore a pitch as Bryan loaded the bases. Kim Borowski (SR/Apopka, Fla.) plated O'Shields for the first run of the game when she drove a single to left. A consecutive single was tallied by Heidi Smith (FR/Cookeville, Tenn.) when she connected for a hit that stayed in the infield. Brown crossed home plate on the play, Petty took third, and Borowski filed behind at second. The Lions capitalized for their last run of the game when Olivia Gore (SR/Cookeville, Tenn.) smacked a long sac-fly to center to score Petty and claim an early 3-0 advantage.
Truett McConnell was able to respond in the top of the third and carried that momentum into the next two innings to help level the score. The Bear's first run was in the third and came when a hit by pitch, single, and walk loaded the bases. Truett McConnell took advantage of the mistake, stayed patience, and was walked once again for a free run.
A single and walk put a runner on second, and a single directed to shallow left-center tacked on another run for the Bears to make it a one-run difference at 3-2 after four innings of action.
The tying run was pieced together in the top of the fifth by Truett McConnell when they singled up the middle to leadoff the inning, stole second base, and advanced to third on a fielder's choice. The score was made 3-3 when the Bears came through with a sac-fly to center.
Bryan applied pressure in the bottom of the sixth with runners on first and second with two outs, but a fielder's choice ended the threat. Both teams were able to get one runner on in the seventh inning, but neither could add the score and prevent extra innings. After moving the game to a second day to finish it, Bryan and Truett McConnell continued to make things interesting for the fans at the AAC Tournament by not scoring a run until the 13th inning.
In the top of the eighth, the Bears were able to load the bases with one out but the Lion's reliever Sydney West (SO/White House, Tenn.) got out of the mess by getting a second out via strikeout and the third from a line out to the circle.
The only other time for a team to get at least two runners on before the 13th inning was in the bottom of the 12th by Bryan. Smith singled up the middle to lead off their at-bat, and Gore trailed with a sac-bunt to advance Smith to second. Smith made contact and fortunately reached base on a misplayed grounder. Shelby Ralston (FR/Dalton, Ga.) took over base-running duties for Smith and took no time to steal second, putting runners on second and third with two outs. It would take one more inning to decide the ballgame when the Lions popped out to short to end the 12th.
With the tank running on empty, Truett McConnell dug deep and dished out a leadoff single followed by a double down the left field line. There was no stopping the Bears as they recorded another double ripped the same direction as the last that brought in the game-winning run. With a runner knocking on the door at third, Bryan prevented another score being added as they got Truett McConnell to ground out, line out, and then fly out.
Hayes was walked to start the bottom of the 13th, and Kaitlin Bradley (SR/Knoxville, Tenn.) entered to pinch run. A pop out to the pitcher's mound notched the first out, and the second out followed from a sac-bunt but allowed Bradley to advanced to second. The last and final out was sent to the Bear's center fielder who made the catch and sealed the lengthy meeting with a 4-3 victory for Truett McConnell.
Unfortunately for the Bears, they were forced to turn around right after the game with the Lions and face off with No. 4 Tennessee Wesleyan University who shutout Truett McConnell 5-0.
The Bears outhit the Lions 16-9 and had to take on Petty who pitched 6.2 innings, scattered nine hits, allowed three runs, walked three, and struck out four. West followed the next 6.1 innings and surrendered seven hits, one run, one walk, tossed one strikeout, and was given the loss.
Borowski, Smith, and Becca Zimmerman (SR/Naples, Fla.) led the team with two hits apiece, while Borowski and Smith each chipped in one run batted in. The other RBI was registered by Gore who went without a hit in the game. Aubrie Osborne (FR/Chatsworth, Ga.), O'Shields, and Brown were the only other Lions with a hit. O'Shields and Brown each scored one run, and Petty tallied the other run scored.
Even though Bryan's time was cut short in tournament play, first-year Head Coach, Kayla Watkins, and the Lions were able to finish 23-24 overall and 15-5 against conference opponents in the regular-season to share the title of AAC Regular-Season Champions with the 16th ranked team in the country and No. 1 seed in the conference tournament, Reinhardt University (Ga.). Highlights of the Lion's season includes an extra-inning upset of then 14th ranked Martin Methodist College (Pulaski, Tenn.), a win over currently 2nd ranked Brenau University (Ga.), and standout slugger Olivia Gore receiving AAC Player of the Week honors while closing out her senior year as the all-time hits (223) and doubles (48) leader in program history.
To keep up with the rest of the AAC Tournament, visit the tournament page.
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