LYNCHBURG, Va. – Senior righthander Sierra Hyland and freshman first baseman Hailey Martin (above) each produced a pair of RBI, but Lamar pushed across the decisive pair of runs in the top of the sixth inning Sunday afternoon as the Cal Poly softball program dropped its NISC Championship Round opener at Liberty Softball Field, 8-6.
Hyland struck out five Cardinals, but suffered the loss after conceding five earned runs for Cal Poly (37-20), which was relegated to a Monday, May 22 loser's bracket matchup versus either Kennesaw State (39-18) or Weber State (36-20-1) at 4 p.m. PT. Lamar (32-29), a first-time opponent for Cal Poly, advanced to meet Illinois State (33-22) in a Monday, May 22 winner's bracket semifinal matchup at 7 a.m. PT.
Cal Poly now needs to win five successive games against elimination to capture the inaugural National Invitational Softball Championship title.
NISC Championship Round
Tuesday, May 22
Illinois State vs. Lamar, 8 a.m. PT
Kennesaw State vs. Weber State, 10 a.m. PT
Liberty vs Illinois State/Lamar loser, 1 p.m. PT
Cal Poly vs Kennesaw State/Weber State loser, 4 p.m. PT
During Sunday's Championship Round opener, Lamar grabbed a 1-0 lead in the top of the second inning. Hyland walked Cardinals second baseman Kelly Meeuwsen to open the inning and, two batters later, right fielder Corina Thornton grounded a ball back toward the box. Hyland fielded the grounder, but threw the ball past shortstop Chelsea Convissar who was racing to cover second base. The ball went into center field and Lamar shortstop Shelby Hughston followed by scoring Meeuwsen with a single to left field.
Offensively, the Mustangs were limited to a pair of hits by Lamar starting righthander Ciara Luna (17-17) before breaking through with a three-run third inning. With one down, Luna struck junior third baseman Stephanie Heyward before Convissar produced a single to left. Hyland followed with a single up the middle to plate Heyward from second and knot the matchup. Freshman first baseman Hailey Martin then unloaded a two-run double to hand Cal Poly the 3-1 advantage.
Lamar, however, needed just a half-inning overtake the Mustangs as center fielder Brittany Rodriguez and catcher Brynn Baca both produced two-out, run-scoring singles before third baseman Sable Hankins belted a three-run homer to left field for a 6-3 Mustang deficit.
The Mustangs, in turn, required just another half-inning to tie the game up at 6-6. With sophomore catcher Makenna Young on second through a fielder's choice and senior second baseman Ashley Tornio at first through a single, Heyward produced a base hit to Hughston at shortstop. Hughston, however, overthrew Lamar first baseman Maddy Myers attempting to get Heyward and the miscue allowed Young to score. Convissar came through with a sacrifice fly to plate Tornio for a 6-5 deficit before Hyland tied the game with a triple to right center.
In the circle for Cal Poly, junior righthander Lindsey Chalmers (13-8) took over for Hyland following Lamar's five-run fourth inning and struck out two Cardinals in the top of the fifth to keep the matchup a stalemate.
Chalmers, however, gave up a pair of hits and walks to open the sixth and, despite Mustang left fielder Courtney Tyler throwing out a Lamar baserunner at home to preserve the tie, the Cardinals pushed across the decisive runs through a sacrifice fly by designated player Shelby Henderson and a Thornton run-scoring single.
Cal Poly, meanwhile, closed the game by stranding the bases loaded in the sixth and leaving two on in the seventh.