Herd sweeps 2 in NISC Softball

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LYNCHBURG, Va. The Marshall softball team fought through an elimination day in the second round of the National Invitational Softball Championship with wins over Rutgers, 4-0, and George Washington, 3-1. The Herd will play the Kent State Golden Flashes Saturday at 10 a.m. The winner moves on to play Liberty in the championship and the loser is eliminated.

The Thundering Herd now has 41 wins for the year, tied for the second-most in program history. The 2017 squad owns the record with 42 victories. Marshall broke another team record on Friday for the most doubles in team history. The Herd hit two in game one and added four in the second game for a total of 81. The old record of 80 was set in 2005.

“Really proud of our team’s performance today in bouncing back from yesterday,” Herd head coach Megan Smith said. “I felt like we showed a lot of fight, a lot grit and perseverance in the wins. We worked well as a team as a lot of difference people stepped up today and did some big things for us.

“KK’s (Kailee Williamson) performance in the second game was great. It was great for us to see her come and do that. She hasn’t thrown as many innings lately but she got the ball tonight and I thought that she was in control, confident and really set the tone for us to be able to figure it out offensively. Just really proud of the total team effort today.”

Game One: Marshall 4, Rutgers 0
The Herd jumped out to an early 3-0 lead thanks to a power-driven first inning against the Scarlet Knights. Sophomore Aly Harrell led off the game with a double to left-center and then scored on a base hit from freshman Mya Stevenson. Two batters later, junior Sierra Huerta blasted her ninth home run of the season to left-center for a 2-run shot. It was the 76th homer of the year for the Herd.

Senior pitcher Abigail Tolbert pitched another great game allowing just four hits and striking out six. It was her 27th complete-game of the season and her 27th win. Tolbert now has 184 strikeouts for the year and 271 in her career.

Marshall added one more run in the fourth inning. Senior Briana Daiss got on base with a two-out single down the left field line. Next, senior Hayden Ellis won a 10-pitch at-bat battle with a double to right-center that scored Daiss from first. It was the 10th double of the year for Ellis.

Ellis and Harrell both finished the game with two hits each. Harrell added her fifth intentional walk and 64th walk of the year. Stevenson has 54 RBI this season, just six away from the team record of 60 set by Rachel Folden (2005-08) in 2005. Huerta drove in two more runs, bringing her total to three for the tournament and 33 for the season.

Game Two: Marshall 3, George Washington 1
Junior pitcher Kailee Williamson had a great outing in the circle and used some incredible defense behind her as Marshall earned its 41st win of the season and eliminated the Colonials. The Herd scored all three of its runs on two outs in the top of the sixth.

Williamson pitched all seven innings, scattered six hits and struck out two.

Huerta continued to hit the ball well with two more doubles to give her a team-leading total of 11. She has hit three doubles in the tournament. Harrell recorded two hits for the third-straight game and was walked once, her 65th of the year.

George Washington scored one run in the in the fourth to finally get on the scoreboard after another pitching and defensive battle. The Herd began to take the momentum with some great glove work in the bottom of the fifth.

With one on base and nobody out, the Colonials best power hitter hit a hard line drive down the third base that was immediately caught by a leaping Burch. Marshall’s third baseman came down with the ball and fired across the diamond to Harrell at first to complete the double play. Next, George Washington’s leading hitter sent a liner into the right-center gap that senior centerfielder Hannah Giammarino ran down for the catch that ended the inning.

In the top of the sixth, with two outs and no one on base, Daiss got the rally started with a double to the left-center gap. Senior Abigail Estrada came in to run for Daiss, but was not there for long as Burch followed up with another double to the left-center gap that scored Estrada. The Herd tied the game at 1-1, but that did not last long either. Ellis stepped up to the plate next and smacked a 2-run homer to left-center that gave Marshall the 3-1 lead.

For Ellis, it was the seventh home run of the season and eighth of her career. She hit her first career home run as a freshman on the very same field and to the same part of the field in a doubleheader against Liberty in 2016.

The Marshall defense then continued to make plays and Williamson recorded her second strikeout over the final two innings to end the game.

The Herd will have to play, and win, three-straight games on Saturday to win the Lynchburg Regional and make it to the NISC Championship Week in Fort Collins, Colo., May 24-26.