College Softball: Tysinger, Catawba make SAC final
By Mike London
SALISBURY — Leading off the bottom of the seventh, Lenoir-Rhyne’s Megan Laxton tore into an off-speed pitch by Catawba’s Carley Tysinger.
It may have been the only mistake Tysinger made in the circle in the Indians’ 2-1 victory in Saturday’s SAC tournament winner’s bracket final at Whitley Field, and L-R fans shrieked as the ball hummed toward the left-field corner.
Silence followed. Foul ball. It was only a loud strike one.
“I thought it was going to be foul, knew it had to be foul, but I still got that ‘Oh-no, Oh-God’ feeling in me for a second,” Tysinger said.
After Tysinger got Laxton out, pinch-hitter Katie Carpenter stepped into the batters’ box and looked menacing enough that Tysinger got a visit from pitching coach Adrian Gantt.
“She’s a big swinger and she wanted me to stay away from her,” Tysinger said.
Tysinger (25-8) struck her out with a disappearing dropball, her ninth strikeout of the day and the 314th of a record-breaking season for the SAC Pitcher of the Year and Freshman of the Year.
The final out was easy — a routine popup. Catawba first baseman Kim Fesperman, the former South Rowan star, squeezed it, and the fourth-seeded Indians (32-17) headed to today’s 1 p.m. championship game (or games) still unbeaten.
Senior center fielder Amanda Terry, Catawba’s hitting star in the tournament, began the day with a double to left-center against All-SAC hurler Maryann Hoskins (14-6). Terry scored when Holli Chandler’s bunt was thrown away, and Tysinger had a quick run to work with.
“I always try to keep in mind that I’m leadoff and I’ve got to set the standard for us,” Terry said. “Holli executed great, they made a mistake, and we made some use of it.”
Catawba added a gift run in the second that would prove decisive. Kelsey Burgess drilled a double down the left-field line and scored when Fesperman’s popup, that should’ve been an easy third out, was dropped.
“That helped us a lot,” Tysinger said. “But that’s just part of the game. It happens.”
Catawba couldn’t make some plays in the infield in the third, and the Bears got a run back on Lauren Elder’s well-stroked sacrifice fly.
The pivotal inning was the L-R fourth. With one out, the Bears (31-14) got back-to-back baserunners on disputed plays that Catawba coach Nan Whitley argued to no avail, and frustration was creeping into the Catawba camp.
Momentum was headed L-R’s way, but when Chelsey Long tried to advance from second to third on a pitch in the dirt, Catawba’s senior catcher Tara Gibbs threw her out on a very close play. Umpires are human, and Catawba got that call after not getting the previous two.
“We needed to make a move to calm things down and get back in control,” Gibbs said.
Gibbs is one of the great sluggers in Catawba history with 40 homers, but this time her defense provided the key moment.
“That was a tide-turner,” Tysinger said.
Tysinger took it from there. The Bears went down 1-2-3 in the fifth. Jessica Fellmeth, who had both of the clean hits the Bears managed, singled with one out in the sixth, but Tysinger didn’t blink. Then, after the scary foul ball, Tysinger handled third-seeded L-R in the seventh.
“Carley takes it to another level every game,” Gibbs said. “She can keep control of herself in very tough situations and get the job done. She’s something special.”
NOTES: Gina Gerone led off the Catawba fifth by slicing a double to right. Fesperman bunted her to third, but she was stranded. ... Catawba is ranked 10th in the region. The SAC tourney winner automatically goes to the eight-team regional. Catawba will be on the bubble if it doesn’t win the tourney. ... Catawba is the only unbeaten team left and will have to be beaten twice today to be denied the championship.