By Mike London
SALISBURY — Their hometowns are basically on different planets, but Catawba freshmen Carley Tysinger and Gina Gerone shared identical pain on Sunday afternoon.
Eyeblack swirling from a mix of tears and sweat, Tysinger, the pitcher from nearby Lexington, and Gerone, the second baseman from Brooklyn, trudged together slowly from Whitley Field as runners-up instead of champions.
Tysinger, SAC Freshman of the year and Pitcher of the Year, searched for words to explain it all, but finally gave up for the first time this season.
“You can’t put into words how I feel right now,” she said.
The two freshmen, senior starters Tara Gibbs, Amanda Terry and Mollie Kovalcin, and the rest, came oh-so-close to celebrating the program’s first title. Instead, the Lenoir-Rhyne Bears claimed their fourth straight tourney crown.
L-R had to beat Catawba twice on Championship Sunday and did so, rallying improbably from five down to win 7-5 in the opener, before cruising 8-0 in the second game.
Lenoir-Rhyne (35-14) moves on to the Southeast Regional. Eight teams make it, including five at-large bids.
Catawba (32-19) is in the mix for one of them, but now it can only wait and hope as a committee crunches numbers.
“We beat the No. 1 team in our league (regular-season champ Tusculum) here and we beat Lenoir-Rhyne once here (2-1 on Saturday),” Catawba coach Nan Whitley said. “But it’s out of our hands now.”
Fourth-seeded Catawba needed one win for the title. Tysinger (25-9) whipped her first pitch shortly before 1 p.m, and by 1:15, it looked like the Indians were home free. After third-seeded L-R went down quickly in the top of the first, Catawba piled up five runs in the bottom half.
Terry walked, Holli Chandler dropped down a perfect bunt, and Gibbs bounced a single through the infield to load the bases with none out.
Sydney Hyder’s walk made it 1-0, and Tysinger stroked an RBI single for 2-0. That prompted a pitching change, with Maryann Hoskins (16-6), the hurler the Indians beat Saturday, entering the circle.
The first hitter Hoskins faced was Kovalcin, a shortstop from Arnold Palmer’s hometown of Latrobe, Pa., and she smoked a 7-iron to left-center to make it 4-0. Gerone’s foul sac fly made it 5-0, but Hoskins would shut out the Indians the rest of the day.
Lenoir-Rhyne rallies a lot. Still, down 5-0 to Tysinger, who had a 1.04 ERA when the day began, the outlook for the Bears wasn’t overly sunny.
It was still 5-0 in the fifth, but that’s when L-R’s leadoff batter reached on a passed ball on a strikeout. After a single found a hole, leadoff batter Jody Mizelle stunned everyone with a three-run homer.
“We didn’t give up,” Hoskins said. “And then that homer got everyone up. After that, it was non-stop momentum our way.”
Tysinger made a great stop to help herself, but L-R got one more run before the fifth was done, and it was 5-4.
“I still don’t believe that inning was the turning point,” Tysinger said. “We were still up. We still had chances to make things happen.”
But Catawba didn’t, partly because Hoskins got spectacular help from outfielders Mizelle and Brittany Courson.
“It was not that the pitching was just shutting us down,” Gerone said. “Everyone wanted this, and we were making solid contact. They just kept making great defensive plays.”
L-R’s Jessica Fellmeth nearly drove a ball through the fence in the seventh to put runners at second and third. Haily Jarman’s single tied the game. Tysinger nearly hadAshley Oliver struck out twice but didn’t get either borderline call. Then, Oliver’s two-run single made the Bears winners.
L-R breezed in Game 2 behind Hoskins. Emily B. Huneycutt (3-7) started in the circle for the Indians, and the Bears jumped up 4-0 quickly .
“We went with Emily to try to throw off their hitter’s timing,” Whitley said. “Emily did her job. She got groundballs. They just found holes.”
It was a deflating day, but Whitley feels the program is nearing a breakthrough.
“The girls put everything they had into this tournament, and I’m proud of them,” she said. “We’re right there. We’ll have a strong nucleus returning and eight signed for next year that we feel good about.”