CONWAY, Ark. – Ashley McDowell became Lamar University’s all-time hits leader, but the Cardinals saw their hopes of a Southland Conference Softball Tournament title come to an end with a 2-1 loss to the host Central Arkansas Bears on Thursday.
McDowell went 3-for-3, giving her 196 hits to pass the previous record of 194 held by Stephanie Meeuwsen. McDowell gave the Cardinals a 1-0 lead in the top of the first, leading off with a single and eventually scoring on a double-steal attempt, but the third-seeded Cardinals (28-28) couldn’t add to that total against the fifth-seeded Bears (25-33), stranding nine runners on the day.
That lead stood until the bottom of the sixth inning, when Lauren Brooks hit her first home run of the season, a two-run shot to left field on a 3-2 pitch from LU starter Laura Napoli (11-11).
The Cardinals mounted a threat in the top of the seventh as Shelby Hughston drew a leadoff walk and moved to second on McDowell’s bunt single. It appeared the Cards would tie the game on Brittany Rodriguez’s shot to the left-center field gap, but Central Arkansas left fielder Hannah Stirton made a running backhanded catch, forcing the runners to hold. Brynn Baca followed with a line drive right to Stirton before Sable Hankins grounded out to end the game.
“It’s tough because we got three great pitching performances in the tournament and could only get one win,” LU coach Holly Bruder said. “Laura was tremendous today. Once again, we just didn’t get the timely hits when we needed them.”
Napoli went five-plus innings, allowing five hits and two runs, both earned. She walked a season-high four, while striking out one. Anissa Rodriguez pitched one inning of scoreless relief for LU. McDowell had three of LU’s six hits. Shelby Henderson had two hits and Corina Thornton had the other hit for the Cardinals.
Central Arkansas starter Kayla Gomness (17-17) picked up the complete-game victory, allowing six hits and five walks, while striking out one.
Despite the loss, the Cardinals remain hopeful of receiving their first-ever bid to a national postseason tournament, as they are under consideration for a spot in the National Invitational Softball Championship, a 64-team event that is conducted by the same organization that runs the WNIT in women’s basketball. The first round of the NISC would feature 16 four-team regions. The tourney field will be announced Sunday evening, with the tournament starting on Tuesday.
“To even be considered is quite a compliment,” Bruder said. “We’ll just have to wait to see what happens.”