Southern Miss avoids series sweep from Western Kentucky with a walk-off win

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Samantha Reynolds (2) prepares for a bunt hit against Alabama. Photo Mattie Gray

The Southern Miss Softball team (10-14,1-2 C-USA) opened conference play this past weekend against the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers (17-7,2-1 C-USA), winning one of three games in the series.

In game one of the series on Saturday, the Golden Eagles got out to an early 1-0 lead in the first inning. A Chase Nelson sacrifice fly allowed Karley Nichols to score for the lead. The lead only held until the top of the third inning, when Western Kentucky’s Jordan Thomas hit a sacrifice fly in the top of the third to tie the game at 1-1.

The Hilltoppers took the lead in the contest in the next inning. In the top of the fourth, Kendall Smith hit a two-run home run to put the score at 3-1. In the top of the fifth inning, the runs kept coming for Western Kentucky, as they scored eight runs in their half of the inning.

Southern Miss tried to avoid an early run-rule ending to the game in the bottom of the fifth. In the inning, designated player Sarah Van Schaik hit a long sacrifice fly ball to right field that allowed baserunners Destini Brown and Samantha Reynolds to score. Western Kentucky pitcher Kelsey Aikey entered the game in relief for Shelby Nunn after those runs scored to seal the 11-3 run-rule win for the Hilltoppers, however.

Samantha Robles took the loss in the circle for the Golden Eagles. Robles allowed eight hits and eight runs while walking two batters and striking out three in 4.1 innings of work.

The two teams played a full seven innings in the second game of the series, but the Golden Eagles had trouble generating hits against Aikey, who started the contest for the Hilltoppers and pitched a complete game. Aikey allowed just two hits and struck out seven batters to give Western Kentucky the 4-1 win in game two.

Destini Brown and Samantha Papp were the only two batters to record hits against Aikey in the contest. Papp was responsible for the only Southern Miss run when she hit a solo home run to left field in the bottom of the seventh inning.

After a rain delay on Sunday, the two teams squared off for game three at 5 p.m. The final contest between the two teams was a defensive pitching duel. Robles kept the Western Kentucky bats at bay for most the game. The redshirt senior rebounded from her first appearance against the Hilltoppers, pitching 7.2 scoreless innings and striking out eight batters. On the other side of things, Nunn had 6.1 scoreless innings of work, and the two teams remained scoreless after seven full innings of play.

“Samantha Robles wanted the ball again after yesterday,” Head Coach Wendy Hogue said. “She came back today and not only gave us a good seven [innings], that was her goal, but she even went further than that.”

Southern Miss had multiple opportunities bring runners home in extra innings, but were unable to capitalize on those opportunities in the seventh, eighth, ninth, and tenth innings. In the bottom of the eleventh inning, Van Schaik singled down the right-field line brought Papp to the plate. Papp immediately hit a walk-off two-run home run to right center field to give the Golden Eagles their first conference win on the season.

Papp said after the contest that she was focused on having a good at-bat when she stepped up to the plate before her game-winning home run.

“I was really just trying to have productive at-bats,” Papp said. “I just wanted to advance her [Van Schaik], just to do anything I could to help my team.”

Southern Miss will look to continue their positive momentum when they take on the Auburn Tigers in a doubleheader on Mar.12.  The first game at the Southern Miss Softball Complex is set for 2 p.m.