BEAUMONT, Texas – The Lamar University softball team earned its first-ever championship banner in dramatic fashion on Thursday, as freshman Shelby Henderson’s walk-off single in the bottom of the seventh inning gave the Cardinals a 3-2 win over Louisiana-Monroe in the championship game of the Beaumont Regional of the National Invitational Softball Championship.
The Cardinals will find out late Thursday evening where the six-team NISC finals will be played. The finals are slated to start Sunday.
Henderson ripped the first pitch she saw from ULM reliever Paige Porter to deep center to easily score Brittany Rodriguez from third as the Cardinals (31-29) completed their comeback from a first-inning 2-0 deficit and allowing LU coach Holly Bruder to be showered with ice water.
“At first, I was thinking I didn’t want it, but I figured I’ve never had that here,” Bruder said of the dousing. “It felt good. Especially on a hot day.”
The win capped a long day for the Cardinals, who lost to ULM 2-1 in walk-off fashion earlier Thursday to set up the winner-take-all contest.
“It shows the tenacity and character of this team,” Bruder said of battling back to earn the first-ever championship of any kind for the program. “For them to turn the page and forget the first game is the sign of a championship team. This easily could have been two losses.”
Henderson’s game-winning hit came with the bases loaded and one out. Rodriguez opened the inning with a single and advanced to second on Brynn Baca’s sacrifice bunt. The Warhawks (32-30) intentionally walked Sable Hankins before LU loaded the bases when ULM couldn’t get the speedy Rodriguez at third on Kelly Meeuwsen’s grounder. That set the stage for Henderson, who drove in LU’s first run with an RBI double in the fourth inning.
“I feel great. I’m just glad that we could do it for the seniors,” Henderson said. “They wanted to continue their careers. I know how down they were after the conference tournament. To see them be able to play for another week just feels amazing.”
One of those seniors, right-handed pitcher Ciara Luna (16-17) had an outstanding tourney for the Cardinals. Luna went 3-1 in the tournament, earning the victory in the title game with three innings of one-hit relief after pitching a complete game in the first contest of the day, allowing two unearned runs. For the regionals, Luna posted a 0.30 ERA in 23 2/3 innings.
“Ciara was tremendous all week,” Bruder said. “I don’t think you can ask for anything more from her.”
Rodriguez, who had a hit in both games, broke her own school record with her first-inning double in the opener. It was her 71st hit of the season, eclipsing the 70 hits she had last year.
“I didn’t even know about the record until between games,” Rodriguez said. “I wasn’t thinking about that. I was thinking about what I could do to help us win.”
Laura Napoli started and worked the first four-plus innings for the Cardinals, allowing six hits and two runs, over the first four innings. The junior righty settled down after allowing two runs and three hits in the first inning.
“Laura did a good job for us,” Bruder said. “She kept us in the game. We also got great defense in both games today. I was happy to see that.”
Bruder was especially happy that the Cardinals could claim their first-ever title on their home turf.
“Our fans have been supportive of us since Day 1. I appreciate that they came out on a weekday afternoon to support us,” she said. “We have a great record at home, and they are a big reason for that.”cation to be determined.
FORT COLLINS, Colo. – The 2017 National Invitational Softball Championships wrapped up regional play Thursday with a number of white-knuckle finishes, and attention now turns to the Championship Round, which will be hosted by Liberty in Lynchburg, VA, beginning Sunday, May 21.
Two semifinal games and championship will be broadcast live on ESPN3.
The Flames prevailed in Region 6, topping Ohio, 4-3, after Ohio had forced the “if” game with a 1-0, 12-inning victory earlier in the day.
The other regional champions are Cal Poly, Illinois State, Kennesaw State, Lamar and Weber State.
Here’s the schedule for the 2017 NISC Championship Round (double elimination):
Sunday, May 21
Cal Poly vs. Lamar, 4 p.m. ET
Weber State vs. Liberty, 7 p.m. ET
Monday, May 22
Kennesaw State vs. Weber State/Liberty winner, 10 a.m. ET
Illinois State vs. Cal Poly/Lamar winner, 1 p.m. ET
Weber State/Liberty loser vs. TBA, 4 p.m. ET
Cal Poly/Lamar loser vs. TBA, 7 p.m. ET
Tuesday, May 23
Loser’s bracket game, 1 p.m. ET
Winner’s bracket game, 4 p.m. ET (ESPN3)
Loser’s bracket game, 7 p.m. ET (ESPN3)
Wednesday, May 24
Championship Game, 12 p.m. ET, (ESPN3)
Championship Game (if necessary), 3 p.m. ET (ESPN3)