BOCA RATON, Fla. — Playing its third game of the day, the WKU softball team allowed four unanswered runs in a 4-2 loss to South Alabama in the semifinals of the 2012 Sun Belt Conference Softball Championship at the FAU Softball Stadium Friday. Junior pitcher Mallorie Sulaski went the distance for the Lady Toppers while also driving in WKU's two runs.
Both starting pitchers - Sulaski for WKU (33-25-1) and Farish Beard for South Alabama (38-15) - were dominant from the outset. Each team's lead-off batter got a hit in the first but were left on base. Katrina Metoyer led off the Lady Toppers' half of the third with a walk. She advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt by Olivia Watkins. With a runner at second and one out, both Preslie Cruce and Kelsie Mattox flew out to end the inning. Through three innings, both pitchers had allowed a combined two hits and three baserunners.
Sulaski was especially dominant. After allowing a lead-off single to Alyssa Linn leading off the game, she retired the next nine South Alabama batters. She hit Blair Johnson with a pitch leading off the top of the fourth, then retired the side to end the inning. WKU got on the scoreboard in the bottom of the fourth. Karavin Dew led off the inning by getting hit by a pitch. Amanda Walden then hit a groundball to South Alabama shortstop Brittany Fowler. Fowler attempted to throw to second to start the double play, but her throw went to rightfield allowing Dew to reach third base and Walden second. After consecutive flyouts, Sulaski laced a single to right centerfield to bring in both runners and put the Lady Toppers ahead 2-0.
With Sulaski continuing to blank the Jaguars, WKU had a chance at some insurance runs in the bottom of the fifth. Watkins and Cruce hit back-to-back singles to left field leading off the inning. South Alabama then brought in Katy Neal to face Mattox. Neal struck out Mattox, then got Dew to fly out to right field for the second out. With two outs, Walden lined out to Kaitlyn Griffith at second base to end the threat.
After being held to one hit through five innings, the South Alabama offense came alive in the top of the sixth. With one out, Blair Johnson doubled down the right field line. Fowler then hit a double past a diving Metoyer in centerfield, scoring Johnson to make the score 2-1. She would reach third on the throw from the outfield. South Alabama tied the game 2-2 as Haley Hopkins reached on an error that allowed Fowler to score. Meghan Collins walked to load the bases. Sulaski got WKU out of the inning by getting Griffith to line out to Thomas who doubled off Collins at first.
WKU had a chance to take the lead in the bottom of the sixth. Amanda Thomas and Laura Smith both hit singles to left field leading off the inning. Sulaski then hit into a fielder's choice as South Alabama third baseman Christin Crocker took a groundball back to the third base bag for the first out. With runners at first and second, Metoyer drew a walk to load the bases. Neal then struck out Watkins for the second out. Cruce then grounded out to first base to end the inning and leave the bases loaded.
Both teams went up and out in order in the seventh inning, forcing extra innings. With one out in the top of the eighth, Sulaski hit Fowler with a pitch. Hopkins then knocked a single to left field to give South Alabama runners at first and second with one out. Collins loaded the bases with a bloop single to centerfield. The Jaguars took the lead on an RBI single to leftfield by Crocker. Mattox bobbled the ball on the play, allowing Hopkins to also score putting South Alabama ahead 4-2. That would be all the runs the Jaguars would need as Hannah Campbell retired the side in the WKU half of the eighth for the win.
Cruce had two of WKU's six hits in the ballgame, going 2-for-4 at the plate. South Alabama had seven hits from seven different players. Campbell got the win for the Jaguars, pitching two perfect innings in relief. Sulaski struck out four while allowing seven hits and four runs, two of which were earned.
The Lady Toppers finish the 2012 season with a record of 33-25-1.