SALEM, Va. – The No. 4 Salisbury University softball team saw its season come to a close on Sunday afternoon at the Moyer Sports Complex, as the Sea Gulls fell 3-2 to the University of Texas-Tyler for the Sea Gulls' second loss of the NCAA Division III Softball Championship.
After a scoreless six innings, the Sea Gulls (37-8) broke through with a pair of runs in the seventh, but the Patriots would plate three in the bottom of the inning to walk off with the win.
A pitchers' duel between Salisbury's Rachel Johnson and UT-Tyler's Kelsie Batten carried into the final inning when Salisbury's bats came to life for three hits to grab the lead.
Molly Simpson beat out a single up the middle to open the frame. Her spinner landed in the hole near the second-base bag, which second baseman Shelby Shelton fielded cleanly, but the throw was just late.
After getting behind in the count, 0-and-2, junior Katie Sebbane worked the count for a walk, before sophomore Caitlin Lake blooped a single just over the leaping try of the shortstop, Raven Rodriguez.
Batten nearly escaped the jam, getting a comebacker, to erase Simpson at the plate and then a strikeout to keep the game scoreless. But Kim Dorsey came to the plate and broke the tie.
The junior took the first strike before driving a line shot through the right side of the infield bringing Sebbane home easily with the go-ahead run and Lake was able to score from second, sliding around the tag at the plate for the 2-0 lead.
"We were just looking to push one across and luckily we got the bases loaded there," Dorsey said. "I was looking for a pitch to hit. I knew she was pitching outside all game and I just went with it and luckily two runs went across."
Freshman LeAnne Collins drew a walk to load the bases, as the Patriots went to the bullpen for Alaina Kissinger, who got a groundout to end the inning.
UT-Tyler brought its own offensive surge in the bottom of the inning, registering three hits in the home half of the inning.
Johnson would get a strikeout to begin the frame, her fifth of the day and 1,073rd of her career, but would allow a walk and hit a batter to put two on. Christa Hartnett got a single through the left side to load the bases before Johnson got a grounder back to the circle, throwing out the lead runner at the plate for the second out, but back-to-back hits would finish the game. Shelby Shelton hit a ball into center field to tie the game and Jackie Mendez's flare to center field dropped in, allowing the winning run to come home.
"I think that's what makes our sport so great, that you can have these tremendous highs at one moment and then just when you think your team's out of it, then they bring the highs for their side," Head Coach Margie Knight said. "We can dwell on what just happened in that one inning, or those seven innings, or we can look back on the whole season and we've had some tremendous wins ourselves. I think when we look back at the end of this that it was another fantastic season for the Sea Gulls."
Salisbury would get a runner on base in each of the first three innings, but could not get any past third, while Johnson stymied the Patriots (50-3), surrendering just three hits over the first six innings.
It appeared the Sea Gulls would put up the first run of the day in the top of the sixth inning, as junior Annah Brittingham drilled the first pitch she saw from Batten to straightaway center. Hit to either left or right field and it was a home run, or just six inches higher, but Hartnett was able to run the ball down and make a leaping catch to keep the ball in the park and keep the game scoreless, setting up the seventh-inning dramatics.
"Not a lot of people can say they've been here three times in a row and I'm lucky to be part of great teams all three years and great people," Dorsey said. "I don't want it to end and luckily I have next year, and hopefully we can come back to do it again."
The loss closes the careers of three talented seniors – Johnson, Rebecca Hoey, and Angela Malgieri – who have made a great impact on the program, leading the Sea Gulls to a 160-24 record over the past four years, with four NCAA tournament appearances, three trips to the championship round, along with a runner-up finish in 2014.