The two members of the Shawnee State softball senior class – Ericka Leighty and Ali Thompson - entered play Saturday with 98 wins over their four seasons with the Bears. After a pair of crazy finishes that ended up with two walk-off victories against Cumberland University, the duo has now watched an even 100 wins over their SSU careers with the postseason still to come.
In the opening game, the Bears (24-14, 18-8 MSC) trailed the Bulldogs (32-15, 14-10 MSC) 3-1 heading into the bottom of the seventh before a three-run rally was capped by a Hannah Dittoe two-RBI single. The second game went 4-4 into the bottom of the seventh before Kirsti Yates hit her second walk-off home run of the season to lift the Bears to a 6-4 victory.
Getting the start on Senior Day, Thompson pitched two scoreless innings to open in the circle but the Cumberland would strike first with three strike two-out singles in the third to take a 2-0 lead after the third. The Bears were held to just two hits over the first four innings but they would get on the scoreboard in the bottom of the fifth.
The two seniors started that frame off with Thompson singling to start the inning before Leighty bunted Tiffani Hale, who was on to run from Thompson, over to second. The Bulldogs would go for the lead runner on a grounder back at the pitcher but Hale beat the play to third and Yates would drive in the Bears first run of the game on an RBI groundout to make it 3-1 after five innings. However, the Bulldogs would get one back in the sixth when a leadoff double came around to score, making it 4-1.
The Bears were unable to score in the sixth but Thompson held the Bulldogs off the scoreboard in the seventh to set the stage for the rally. Leighty got the inning going with a double into center field and Kelsey Jenkins and Yates would work walks to load the bases with nobody out. Cumberland got the next batter to strike out before Abbey Barrett got the first runner of the inning home on a grounder to third.
With the score 3-2, Dittoe stepped to the plate and watched three pitches go by for balls before two strikes made it a full count. With the runners on second and third from the previous ground out, she would drive a single into left field which plated Jenkins and Yates with the game-winning runs to take the opener 4-3.
The second game also saw the Bulldogs up 3-0 to start although this lead came much earlier in game two as the Bulldogs’ Jessica Roper blasted a two-run home run over the fence in right field in the first inning before Cumberland manufactured another run off of two singles and a bunt in the second.
SSU would get the game back to within one with runs in the second and third innings. In the second, Holly Brabson led off with a walk and scored on back-to-back singles by Barrett and Dittoe. Leighty tripled with one out in the third and would score on Jenkins’ RBI single in the next at-bat to make it 3-2 after three innings.
The Bears’ second game starter Allie Chapman would pitch scoreless innings in the third, fourth and fifth innings before the Bears took a temporary lead in the fifth as Leighty reached on a base hit after she and the first baseman collided as the throw from third came to first. Jenkins bunted the senior into scoring position and Yates would drive her home to tie the game at three. Brabson was then hit-by-pitch to put two on before a strikeout put two away. Dittoe would then ground to third but the throw to first went wide of the base and Yates would score from second to make it 4-3 after five innings.
A home run by Roper to start the sixth inning would knot the game at four-all but Chapman would regroup and not allow another run in the sixth and pitched a scoreless seventh. The Bears would need just two batters in the seventh as Jenkins started things off with a single before Yates blasted a home run over the left-centerfield fence for the walk-off home run and the daily sweep on Senior Day.
With the two wins, the Bears have locked up at least a fourth-place finish in the Mid-South Conference Tournament which will begin next Saturday in Kingsport, Ky. They could move up the third seed depending on how the rest of the regular season plays out. The final MSC games are slated for Sunday and Monday. After those two dates, the Bears will now their first round opponent.