The USC Upstate softball team had to win two games on Championship Saturday to win the A-Sun Tournament championship. That is just what the Spartans did, capping the day with a 7-5 victory over Lipscomb to earn the program’s first NCAA Tournament appearance since moving to Division I in 2007-08.
Upstate becomes the first team at Upstate to advance to a national tournament conducted by the NCAA since moving to Division I in 2007-08. Cross Country star Gilbert Kemboi was the first Upstate student-athlete to advance to NCAA Nationals last fall. The softball team is the first Spartan team to advance to an NCAA Tournament on the Division I level.
In addition, Cheyenne Griffin (Moore, S.C.) was named the A-Sun Most Valuable Player and was joined on the all-tournament team by Meredith Barnes (Salem, Ore.), Shellie Robinson (DeLand, Fla.) and Jamie Ujvari (Niceville, Fla.).
Upstate improved to 41-10 on the year with the win and will watch the NCAA Tournament Selection Show on ESPNU Sunday night at 10:00 p.m. to see where it will play in its first-ever NCAA Division I Regional.
“I could not be more proud and happy for a group of young women who have put everything on the line this season,” said Upstate head coach Chris Hawkins, who won his 680th career game Saturday. “We are such a long way from where we were coming home from Johnson City, Tenn. (3-2 loss to ETSU on April 24). I am excited, proud, happy…I don’t know what else to say. We stepped up every time we needed to in order to achieve this goal and I could not be more proud to coach this team.”
Just as Upstate did in the first game of the day, Lispcomb (34-25) used the long ball to open an early lead off Spartan starter Hannah Alexander (Lexington, N.C.). With a runner on base Paige Neely hit a two-run home run to give the Lady Bisons a 2-0 lead in the top of the first inning.
With Upstate needing to quickly turn the tide, the Spartans did just that in the bottom of the first inning. Upstate not only got back in the game, but took the lead off of Lipscomb starter Heather Parker.
Meredith Barnes (Salem, Ore.) led off the inning with a double to right center and scored on Ericka Harris‘ (Piedmont, S.C.) RBI single to cut the Lipscomb lead to 2-1. Cheyenne Griffin (Moore, S.C.) continued a torrid hitting streak in the last final days of the A-Sun Tournament. She tripled to right field to drive in Harris and scored on Dana Landers‘ (Simpsonville, S.C.) RBI single to left to give the Spartans a 3-2 lead.
Maddison Kieffer (Middleburg, Fla.) gave Upstate a three-run cushion with a two-run homer to right field as the Spartans opened a 5-2 advantage. The five runs forced Lipscomb to change pitchers and bring in game one starter Tanner Sanders.
After an explosive first inning, the pitchers settled into the game in the second inning. Alexander struck out the side in the second, while Sanders allowed a base runner, but got out of the inning with relative ease as Upstate maintained its 5-2 lead.
After Alexander set down the Lady Bisons in order again in the top of the third, Upstate made some more noise in the bottom of the frame. Kieffer led off the inning with a walk and Kendall Settlemyre (Hickory, N.C.) followed with a double to put runners on second and third with no outs. Sanders struck out the next two batters, but Barnes came up huge again for the Spartans, belting a two-run single to center to give the Spartans a 7-2 lead.
Gracey Aguirre led off the fourth inning with a double down the line in right field for Lipscomb. Kristen Sturdivant followed with a two-run home run to cut the Upstate lead to 7-4 and breathe life into the Lady Bisons.
Hawkins went to Anna Miller (Portland, Ore.) to start the fifth inning in the circle for Upstate. She quieted the Lipscomb bats in the inning, but the Lady Bisons managed to get a run off her in the sixth on Aguirre’s solo home run to left center. After a walk, Hawkins replaced Miller for freshman hurler Jamie Ujvari (Niceville, Fla.).
Ujvari came up huge in the sixth. Entering the game in a pressure situation and a runner on first with one out, she struck out the next two batters to end the inning and the threat.
The seventh was certainly tension-filled. It started off with the defensive play of the tournament turned in by Landers. Bree Thurman sent a pop fly to shallow center behind the bag at second. Landers came flying in and made the diving catch for the first out of the inning. Lipscomb would go on to put two runners on base with two outs, but Ujvari got Neely to fly out to center to end the game and secure the championship for the Spartans.
Alexander earned the win for Upstate to improve to 16-5 on the year. Ujvari earned her second save of the season in tossing 1 2/3 innings of relief, allowing just two hits with two strikeouts.
Griffin had six hits with six RBIs, three runs and three home runs in the final three games of the A-Sun Tournament to pick up MVP honors.
Upstate had claimed a 4-1 victory in game one of Championship Sunday behind the stellar pitching of Anna Miller. She went the distance to earn the win and put the Spartans in the finale game. Upstate was playing in its second A-Sun Championship Saturday, having lost to Lipscomb in the 2010 title game.