North Manchester, Ind. – For the second consecutive year, the Transylvania softball team won the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference regular season title on the final day of the season, sweeping the Manchester University Spartans in a Tuesday afternoon doubleheader at Spartan Field.
Transylvania won the opener against Manchester, 3-2, before coasting to an 8-2 victory in Tuesday's second game. Junior pitcher Renae Morton claimed her 14th victory of the season with the game one complete-game victory, while sophomore pitchers Jordan Kramer and Tayler Thompson teamed up to hold Manchester at bay in game two.
With the pair of wins, the Pioneers completed their run through the HCAC with a record of 12-4, and 28-11 overall to clinch the conference regular season title for the second straight season.
This year, the Pioneers will share the regular-season co-championship with Anderson University, who also completed the year with a 12-4 record in conference play. With both teams splitting their head-to-head series 1-1, Anderson clinches the tiebreaker by virtue of going 2-0 against the HCAC third-place team Defiance, while the Pioneers split with Defiance earlier this season.
As the No. 2 seed, the Pioneers savor their regular-season title and will venture to Anderson University on Friday to begin the 2017 HCAC Conference Tournament. The Pioneers will face tournament No. 3 seed Defiance at 10:00 a.m. in the opening game of the tournament at Anderson's Raven Field.
As the Pioneers entered the final day of the regular season with the chance to claim their second straight regular-season title, they relied on the arm of Morton to pave the way defensively. Her steady pitching carried the Pioneers through the early innings as they came up with a collection of hits, but held just a 1-0 lead for much of the afternoon.
Transylvania took the first lead of the game in the top of the second inning on a solo home run from sophomore first baseman Jessica Powell go ahead, 1-0. That blast would serve as the lone score of the game all the way until the fifth inning when the Pioneers' consistent hitting finally translated into multiple runs.
Senior infielder Shelby Bailey led off the fifth inning with a double into center field, and freshman designated player Sydney Motell did the same to score Bailey and raise Transy's lead to 2-0. Sophomore infielder Meg Liter then moved Motell forward to third base with a sacrifice bunt, and sophomore outfielder Shelbi Poehlein scored Motell on an RBI groundout for a 3-0 advantage.
That would represent all the scoring for the Pioneers in game one, but the three-run cushion would be enough. Manchester issued a spirited comeback in the bottom of the sixth when the Spartans posted two runs, cutting Transylvania's lead to 3-2 on a two-run home run, but Morton was able to get out of the inning by inducing the Spartans into a pop-up.
The final bottom frame was far less eventful for Transylvania as Morton retired the side to put the Pioneers in position to clinch the regular season title with one win in the books for Tuesday.
Transylvania mustered 11 hits to five for Manchester, with Bailey, Motell, and Poehlein each finding two hits. Four different players in the game had doubles for the Pioneers.
On the cusp of clinching their second straight conference regular season championship, the Pioneers went right to work offensively against Manchester while Kramer started in the circle.
The Pioneers did not let their foot off the pedal, scoring a pair of runs in both the first and second innings to take a 4-1 lead. Sophomore infielder Brittany Mumford scored on a Manchester throwing error, and sophomore outfielder Shelby Gambrell scored on a wild pitch in the first inning for the first two runs of the game. The Pioneers took advantage of another wild pitch in the following inning to score their fourth run of the game.
Kramer remained consistent on the mound, allowing no earned runs during her four innings of work while the Pioneers cultivated a 6-1 lead as they scored again in the third and fourth innings. RBIs from Bailey and Motell in the top of the sixth inning kept the Pioneers out in front of Manchester as they raced to the finish line.
The Pioneers quickly put the final two innings on ice as the reliever Thompson retired six of the final seven batters she faced, and the Pioneers came together to celebrate on the final evening of the regular season as they did in 2016 when they defeated Anderson in a thrilling final game.
Transylvania had 12 hits in the second game compared to four by the Spartans. Mumford, Gambrell, Motell, and junior outfielder Madison Dorsey each had two hits apiece as the Pioneers' offensive flames burned brightly by Tuesday evening.
The regular-season title is the second consecutive crown for the Pioneers and the second garnered in the three-year tenure of head coach Shawn Hendrickson.
The Pioneers, unlike last year, will take to the road as they aim for their first trip to the NCAA Tournament in Transylvania softball history as they compete in the double-elimination format conference tournament in Anderson, Indiana scheduled to elapse over Friday and Saturday. The Pioneers will open against Defiance on Friday at 10:00 a.m. and play again Friday at approximately 12:00 p.m. if they lose, or 2:00 p.m. if they win.
The winner of the four-team tournament earns automatic entry into the NCAA Tournament, slated to begin Friday, May 12.
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