CHARLESTON, S.C. - Nicole Ayala picked one of her final games at the CSU Softball Field to pitch arguably the best game of her collegiate career as the senior ace led Charleston Southern past Radford, 4-1.
Ayala (2-4) retired nine in a row at one point in her first complete game with the Buccaneers and didn't allow a runner past first base over the final three innings in a game that breathed life back into CSU's postseason aspirations. The Torrance, Calif. native scatter four hits and allowed one run while striking out three in the win.
CSU's (26-28, 7-12) win moved the Buccaneers into a tie for sixth place in the Big South softball regular season standings with Winthrop following the Eagles 4-1 loss to Liberty in the first game on Friday afternoon. Winthrop holds the tiebreaker over the Bucs with two games to play. CSU will need to finish a game ahead of the Eagles to clinch a spot in next week's Big South Championships hosted in Radford, Va.
Annie Bakenhus added a pair of doubles in the contest, while Sarah Brown connected on her ninth home run of the season to pace the CSU offensive effort against Radford's Abby Morrow (19-11). Morrow went the distance in the contest allowing eight hits and four runs while striking out four in the loss.
Ayala pitched around a one-out walk in the top of the first inning before the Bucs' bats went to work in the bottom of the frame. Jade Gandara sparked the offense with a one-out single through the left side. Following a grounder that advanced her to second, Bakenhus drove the first run of the game home with a double to the wall in left center. Sarah Brown's single brought home Bakenhus, and then Laina Holmgren dropped a double down the right field line scoring Brown to stake CSU to the early 3-0 lead.
The Highlanders scored their lone run of the contest in the top of the third inning as Hannah Medlam drew a bases-loaded hit by pitch to score Lauren Maddrey with two outs in the frame. Brown stepped in front of Maggie Rowe's line drive down the third base line for the final out of the inning to limit the damage.
The teams settled into a pitchers' duel over the middle frames with a highlight-reel catch from Bakenhus bringing the CSU bench to life in the top of the fifth. Medlam drove a line shot to straightaway centerfield, but the junior centerfield leapt up and over the fence for the home run-saving catch to complete the scoreless frame.
Brown added an insurance run in the bottom of the sixth inning. The freshman third baseman drilled Morrow's 2-1 offering off the top of the centerfield camera stand for her ninth home run of the season to put CSU ahead 4-1.
Ayala cruised from the fourth through the seventh innings with only Medlam's line drive providing a scare for the senior pitcher. She surrendered only a two-out seventh inning hit by pitch to Marissa Gagliano before getting Sofia Tapia to fly out to centerfield to close out the contest.
Bakenhus, Brown, and Holmgren all had two hits apiece in the contest in the CSU win.
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News & Notes
- Seniors Nicole Ayala and Laina Holmgren both made their mark on Senior Day at the CSU Softball Field. Ayala's complete game effort was the first of her collegiate career. Holmgren's two hits and RBI double was her third extra base hit and first multi-hit game of the season.
- Annie Bakenhus' pair of doubles was her third multi-extra base hit game and second game with two doubles on the season. She previous hit a pair of two-baggers on March 9 against Norfolk State.
- Sarah Brown's solo home run was her ninth of the season and first since her blast on April 14 against Campbell. She is currently second in the Big South among freshmen in home runs on the year.
- Ayala's complete game win was CSU's first complete game effort by a CSU pitcher since Alyssa Heinrich went the distance on March 31 in the Bucs' 7-0 win over Presbyterian.
Charleston Southern and Radford close out the weekend series tomorrow afternoon at the CSU Softball Field with first pitch of the scheduled doubleheader set for 1 p.m. Both games will be streamed live via the Big South Network.