May 10, 2008
SAN MARCOS, Texas -
A day after senior Jessica Tullos put the Ladyjacks in the Southland Conference Tournament championship game with a sixth-inning home run, a Stephen F. Austin rookie sent the Ladyjacks to the NCAA Championships with a walk-off homer in the bottom of the seventh inning. Freshman Ashley Struchtemeyer lifted her eighth bomb of the season out to right-center field to give SFA a 2-1 win over Nicholls State Saturday at Bobcat Field.
The victory gives the Ladyjacks their second SLC Tournament title in program history and their first-ever trip to the NCAA Championships. SFA will learn its postseason fate Sunday night when the NCAA Tournament bracket is announced. The selection show is set to air on ESPNU at 9 p.m.
Struchtemeyer's game-winning homer came on the heels of a one-run sixth inning that tied the game for SFA. The Ladyjacks had trailed since the second inning, when Nicholls State loaded the bases and pushed a run across with a walk. The Colonels used three straight singles to fill the sacks with one out. After SFA starter Monika Covington got the second out on strikes, Lacy Gros worked the count full before drawing a walk to give Nicholls a 1-0 lead.
Covington escaped the inning with a ground-out and held the Colonels off the scoreboard the rest of the way, but SFA failed to get a runner on base in the second, third and fourth innings and had just two hits heading into the fifth.
Junior shortstop Moriah Davis doubled off the wall in center field to lead off the fifth but was stranded at third after Struchtemeyer sacrificed her over.
In the sixth inning, the Ladyjacks took advantage of the only error in the game to tie the score. Sophomore Kendal Harper ripped a one-out single through the right side to get things started. She advanced to second on an illegal pitch then took third on a ground-out by Benet Higgs. The next batter, Tullos, chopped a ground ball into the hole on the left side, and shortstop Kat Harrell mishandled it, allowing Harper to score.
Rachel Pugh led off the Nicholls seventh with a single and was lifted for pinch-runner Gabby Lemaire. The next batter, Megan Powell, tried to sacrifice her over, but her bunt was too hard and Covington cut Lemaire down with a strong throw to second. Covington got a strikeout and a groundout to escape the inning and set up Struchtemeyer's heroics.
Covington (20-12) allowed a run on six hits and two walks while recording nine strikeouts. She was named the All-SLC Tournament Most Valuable Player after pitching all 20 innings in the tournament for SFA. She finished with a 0.35 earned run average in three games and totaled 26 strikeouts.
Harper went 2-for-3 to lead SFA at the plate. Higgs, Davis and Struchtemeyer provided the other three Ladyjack base hits, giving SFA five for the game. Struchtemeyer and Tullos joined Covington on the all-tournament team, as did freshman Monica Hirsch and sophomore Briana Bishop.
With the victory, SFA improves to 36-23, extending one of the best seasons in program history. The 36 wins are the third-most recorded by a Ladyjack team since joining the NCAA Division I ranks in 1988.
-- SFA --