A high-stakes game rife with competitive tension ended in heart-breaking fashion Tuesday night for the Eastern Arizona College softball team, as they lost 5-3 to Northwest Florida State College on a two-run walk-off home run in the first round of the NJCAA Softball World Series.
Rain delays in Oxford, Ala., resulted in EAC’s game with NWFSC being postponed more than once. The game was finally played at 8 p.m. Central Time.
Pitcher Jaileen Mancha (22-3) was dealing all night, but it all came down to one pitch in the final inning. She ended the night with six strikeouts and three walks, pitching 6.1 innings.
“Mancha did well in the circle most of the game, although never really getting in her rhythm,” EAC softball Head Coach Kate McCluskey said.
The game started off promising for the Gila Monsters (44-18), with NWFSC (53-9) committing three errors in the first inning. Catcher Jaylene Tomlinson (1-for-4) scored off a sacrifice fly by first baseman Cassidy Morrow (1-for-2, one RBI) to score the game’s first run.
From then on the contest was neck-and-neck, with NWFSC regaining the lead in the bottom of the second inning. The Raiders scored two runs off a Kassidy Hood (1-for-3, two RBIs) double to center field making the score 2-1.
The Monsters fought back, tying the game twice, at 2-2 in the top of the fourth and 3-3 in the fifth inning. The bases were loaded in the top half of the sixth inning when Mariah Cunningham (0-for-3, one walk) led off the inning with a walk to get things rolling. EAC failed to score after Jaylene Tomlinson reached on base on a fielder’s choice, where the go-ahead run was thrown out at home. Back-to-back strikeouts by NWFSC relief pitcher Julia Petty (24-5) ended the inning.
“We did not make the adjustments in hitting, as their pitchers kept us off balance, not allowing us to get the big rally we have been used to,” McCluskey said. “We had runners on most every inning, and with bases loaded, we really thought we had a rally developing.”
EAC’s defense kept the Raiders off the scoreboard in the later innings, with Mancha dealing three up three down in the fifth and sixth inning. Entering the seventh inning, things were looking good for the Monsters, as NWFSC lined out to the shortstop to start off the bottom half. Mancha gave up a hit to the next batter, putting a runner on first. NWFSC’s Sydney Stewart (1-for-4, two RBIs) took it from there, launching a shot over the wall in deep center.
“EA congratulates NWF on a spirited competition,” McCluskey said. “They did not run away with the non-ranked Eastern Arizona, but did hold up to their number five seeding.”
As of press time, EAC was headed to the elimination round, where they were scheduled to take on the 13 seed Angelina College (26-22) on Wednesday. The first pitch was to be at 2 p.m. local time.