BIRMINGHAM, Ala. The No. 4 seed Marshall softball team advanced to the winner’s bracket after defeating No. 1 seed North Texas, 1-0, Thursday in the second round of the Conference USA Tournament. Senior pitcher Abigail Tolbert owned the day for the Herd with eight strikeouts in the shutout.
The Thundering Herd improved to 38-18 and will play the winner of the No. 2 Louisiana Tech and No. 6 Middle Tennessee contest on Friday at 12 p.m. central, 1 p.m. eastern. The Mean Green fell to 34-18 and will play the loser of LA Tech and MTSU, Friday at 2:30 p.m. central.
“The story of that game was Abbie Tolbert,” Herd head coach Megan Smith said. “What a show. She was in some jams, she was mentally tough, showed some grit and fight and I am really proud of her performance today.
“We are fighters offensively and figured out a way to get one, but it was all about Abbie today. She was exceptional.”
Throughout the game, North Texas managed to get runners on base, but Tolbert came through to shut down the top seed in the tournament. The Mean Green stranded a total of 12 runners on base.
In the first inning, North Texas had two runners on, both in scoring position, when Tolbert recorded back-to-back strikeouts to end the inning. It was almost déjà vu in the second inning except this time Tolbert needed just one last strikeout to get out of the jam. The Mean Green loaded the bases in the third inning, but Tolbert came through with her fifth strikeout of the day for the third out.
Tolbert and the Herd defense continued to fight through innings, forcing North Texas to strand one runner in the fourth and two more in the fifth. Marshall retired the side in order for the first time in the game in the sixth.
The Herd scored the lone run of the game in the top of the third inning. Senior Abigail Estrada led off with a base hit and then advanced to second on a successful sacrifice bunt from fellow senior Hannah Giammarino. Sophomore Armani Brown then moved Estrada to third with a base hit up the middle. Two batters later, and with two outs, freshman Mya Stevenson hit a double to right field that brought home Estrada. It was Stevenson’s 50th RBI of the season.
Marshall battled for the win in the bottom of the seventh. After the leadoff batter was retired, Tolbert issued a walk. A pinch runner came in for North Texas and two pitches later attempted to steal second. However, senior catcher Hayden Ellis came up with the big throw and the runner was caught stealing. With two outs and no runners on base, North Texas managed to then get the next two batters on base with walks after long at-bats. The leading home run hitter for North Texas in second baseman Rhylie Makawe came to the plate and got into another deep pitch count against Tolbert. Finally, the Barboursville, W.Va., native got Makawe to strike out swinging for the final out of the ball game. It was the fourth time that Tolbert finished an inning with a strikeout, stranding multiple runners on base.
For Tolbert it was her third-straight shutout after the series finale against Florida Atlantic and the first round win over UTSA.