ECU Softball Drops 9-8 Heartbreaker

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – A seesaw battle that featured seven runs in the eighth inning ended up with North Dakota State pulling off a 9-8 victory over East Carolina on Sunday at the Easton Bama Bash. With the game tied 5-5 going into the eighth, the Pirates (7-6) scored three runs in the top of the frame, but could not hold on as the Bison (9-6) scored four times in the bottom of the inning to claim the win.

The lower portion of ECU’s batting order delivered most of the team’s runs as eight and nine hitters Cicely Lopez and Jill Jelnick combined for six hits, three runs driven in and three scored. Jelnick recorded a career-high four hits and Lopez established her personal best with two runs. Sophomore Jasmine Robbins also turned in a solid game, tallying two hits, two runs scored and two RBI. Every starter in the NDSU lineup had at least one hit and Taylor Mortensen and Brea Konz each plated a pair of runs.

East Carolina freshman pitcher Courtney Smith threw the first five-and-two-thirds, allowing four runs, three earned, on seven hits and a walk. She also struck out a pair. Classmate Sarah Christian (5-3) took the loss, recording six outs and surrendering five runs, one earned, on six hits and two walks. Bison starter Whitney Johnson threw three-and-two-thirds before being replaced by Krista Menke. Johnson allowed five hits and four runs, but none were earned. She also issued a pair of walks and fanned three. Menke picked up the victory to improve to 3-3 as she went the final four-and-a-third innings, giving up four unearned runs on four hits.

Mortensen got the Bison offense going with a leadoff home run in the bottom of the first inning. It was her second first-frame long ball in three games as she opened the North Dakota State contest against Alabama with a homer. After a groundout, Katie Tamayo and Amanda Grable hit consecutive singles to put runners on first and second with one down. Smith avoided further damage as Cristina Borek lined into an inning-ending double play. Jelnick caught the ball and stepped on second to erase Tamayo and end the threat.

After retiring the Bison in order in the third, ECU scored four times in the top of the fourth to take a 4-1 advantage. Senior Suzanne Riggs hit a one-out double off the wall in left field, but was retired on a Robbins fielder’s choice. With two down, Robbins stole second and advanced to third as catcher Jenina Ortega’s throw bounced into center field. Sophomore Jordan Lewis followed with a grounder to second baseman Brandi Enriquez, who had the ball roll under her and into right field, allowing Robbins to score and knot the game at 1-1. A double to left center by Lopez put the Pirates ahead as Lewis was driven in with the hit. Jelnick then came through with her second single of the game, a shot to center that plated Lopez for a two-run advantage. Lee kept the inning alive with a triple off the wall in left center to bring home Lopez for the three-run edge. A pop out to Menke in the circle ended the threat.

The Pirates added another run to go ahead 5-1 in the top of the fifth by taking advantage of a Bison error. With one out, senior Priscilla Velasquez reached on a fielding miscue by Grable at third. After a pop out, Robbins tripled to the gap in right center to plate Velasquez. Menke rebounded with a strikeout to close the frame.

In the bottom of the fifth, Mortensen and North Dakota State struck again and got a run back to make it a 5-2 contest. With one down, Jamie Gay reached on a throwing error by third baseman Alex Fieldhouse and came home on a two-out double down the left-field line by Mortensen. Smith rebounded to strike out Alex Sobrero looking to end the inning.

The Bison kept chipping away in the bottom of the sixth and tied the game at 5-5. Tamayo led off with a single but was erased on a Grable fielder’s choice. Pinch runner Presley Glaser entered for Grable and was heading home on a double off the wall in left center by Borek, but was gunned down at the plate. Riggs played the ball off the wall and fired to sophomore shortstop Kristi Oshiro, who turned and threw to Lee, who put the tag on Glaser. With two outs, Konz hit a home run to left center to plate Borek and make it a one-run affair. Christian entered for Smith and allowed three-straight singles as Enriquez drove in Ortega to knot the score. After an intentional walk to Mortensen loaded the bases, Sobrero grounded out to Jelnick to strand three.

NDSU retired the Pirates in order in the top of the seventh and had a golden opportunity in the bottom of the frame, but was held off the board. Tamayo led off reaching on a throwing error by Jelnick and the ball sailed into the dugout, allowing Tamayo to advance to third with no outs. Christian recorded a pop out and lineout and intentionally walked Konz to bring up Ortega, who lined out to Velasquez at first base in foul territory to end the threat.

With the international tie breaker rules in place for the eighth, ECU erupted for three runs to take an 8-5 lead. Sophomore pinch runner Chelsea Kaluhiokalani-Glackin started at second base and moved to third on a sacrifice bunt by Riggs. Kaluhiokalani-Glackin came home on a single to left center by Robbins. Sobrero mishandled the ball in center, allowing Robbins to move to second and she advanced to third on an illegal pitch by Menke. A wild pitch allowed Robbins to score for a two-run advantage. A fielding error followed by a fielder’s choice left Lopez on first with two outs. She moved to second on an illegal pitch and came home on Jelnick’s fourth hit of the ball game, a single to right. A groundout ended the ECU half inning.

North Dakota State again had an answer in the bottom of the inning, scoring four times to come away with the victory. With Ortega placed on second to start the frame, Gay singled to center to drive her in. Enriquez followed with a looping single to left, putting runners on first and second with no outs. Christian fanned Mortensen, but Sobrero put down a bunt that Lopez, who had entered at third, threw into right field, allowing Gay to score and Enriquez to move to third. A sacrifice fly by Tamayo knotted the game and Grable delivered the deciding run with a single to right field.

East Carolina has nearly a full week off before returning to action Saturday, March 3 in Fullerton, Calif., against California and Northwestern. The Pirates face the No. 3 Golden Bears (11-0) at 12:00 p.m. ET and the Wildcats (4-8) at 4:30 p.m. ET.

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