TUCSON, Ariz. –The Claremont-Mudd-Scripps softball team went 5-1 during their three day stay at the Tucson Invitational Games facing teams from Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota. The Athenas beat Augsburg 10-2 (5 innings), Wisconsin Eau Claire 7-4 (8 innings), Marian 9-0 (5 innings) and most notably No. 4 Central College (IA) twice (2-1, 7-0) while dropping a game to Wisconsin La Crosse 6-1. The relentless offensive fire power combined with stellar pitching performances that were backed up with rock solid defense earned the Athenas five hard fought wins.
The key to the Athenas' offensive success was their aggressive mentality at the plate. The team embodied one of head coach Betsy Hipple's favorite sayings, "if you've got a strike, you're still alive." During the six games, the Athenas had 17 of their 25 RBI and a team batting average of .455 with two outs.
In the first game on Monday against Augsburg, sophomore Shannon O'Neill put pressure on the Auggies' defense going 2-2 at the plate and scored two runs with her speed on the bases. Freshman Melanie Carlson came up big for the Athenas with a pinch hit two RBI single to kick off a five run fifth inning to induce the mercy rule when CMS led by 8 runs after the inning. Freshman pitcher Kaylilani Minami averaged one strikeout per inning for her fourth win on the season. Minami was supported by a stellar infield; sophomore short stop Tara Robinson turned a double play in the top of the fourth when the Auggies threatened with two runners on the bases.
The Athenas met Central College (IA), their biggest foe in the tournament on Monday night. Central is led by George Wares, the winningest coach in Division III softball. The Dutch won the NCAA Regional they hosted in 2013 and attended the Division III World Series last year. This year, the NFCA ranks Central fourth in the nation with returning All-American Mallory Schulenberg in the circle.
CMS last faced the Dutch in 2012 at the Tucson Invitational Games when the Athenas fell 2-0 after a dramatic two run walk-off homer. Before then, CMS met Central in an NCAA Regional in 2010 and beat the Dutch 8-4.
The game had playoff energy from the very first pitch as each team threw their ace pitchers: junior Mallory Schulenberg for Central and junior Hayley Schultz for CMS.
The Athenas knocked early with freshman Alexa Heydenberk scoring in the first inning on a wild pitch after getting on base with a leadoff single. After another leadoff single in the bottom of the third, Heydenberk scored on a shot through the right side by sophomore Katie Savard.
Schultz was the rock of the Athenas' defense and held the Dutch to only four hits and one run while striking out five.
On the second day of the tournament, CMS faced Univ. Wisconsin La Crosse and Univ. Wisconsin Eau Claire. In the first game against UW La Crosse, CMS had a rocky start giving up five runs in the first three innings. Relief pitcher sophomore Molly Rubidoux came in and held Eagles to three hits for the rest of the game while her defense played flawlessly behind her.
UW La Crosse's hurler, sophomore Megan Nelson pitched the game against Central College the day before in the Eagles' 6-2 victory. Against CMS she allowed four Athena hits in seven innings. CMS scratched out one run in the seventh inning on senior Morgan Beltz's first RBI of the trip, foreshadowing her success in the upcoming games.
In the afternoon game against UW Eau Claire, Schultz was back in the circle for the Athenas and pitched another gem. With the score tied at one run a piece, Beltz drove in two runs in the top of the seventh to put the Athenas up 3-1. The Blugolds matched the Athenas with two runs of their own in the bottom of the seventh. The Athenas put together an explosive eighth inning scoring four runs due to a key slide into the plate by senior Megan Latta to break up a double play.
On the final day of the trip, CMS faced Marian University (WI). Rubidoux pitched a one-hit shutout in five innings of work while the Athenas' offense scored nine runs off eight hits. Beltz added two more RBI to her prolific week and sophomore right fielder Janelle Shiozaki was 2-3 with two runs scored.
The Athenas met the Central College Dutch once again for the final game in Tucson. This time, CMS ran away with the 7-0 team win. The same ace pitchers as in the first game faced off in the rematch.
Schultz went all seven innings and only allowed two hits in the lights out performance. After a contentious play in the bottom of the second inning, the Dutch loaded the bases with two outs, threatening the Athenas' 1-0 lead. Schultz struck out the next batter to end the inning.
Central had runners in scoring position in two other innings but the Athena defense remained steady behind their fearless ace and shut out the Dutch.
Sophomore Carlene Roberts jacked a double to right field over the aggressive Dutch outfielders to continue the CMS scoring in the late innings. The Athenas' offense had 14 hits on the game, a season high, and earned all seven of their runs. Savard and Beltz each had two RBI and sophomore Brooklyn Robinson was 3-5 with three runs scored.
For the six games, Shiozaki hit .583 followed closely by Savard at .524 with 11 hits and six RBI. Brooklyn Robinson hit .444 and led the Athenas with seven runs scored. Beltz had a hugely clutch week and recorded a team high eight RBI, all of which came with two outs. Collectively, the team had a .415 on base percentage.
The Athenas are now 12-7 overall, winning 12 in the last 14 games. CMS returns home to host Occidental in a SCIAC double header on Saturday, March 22 at 12 pm and 2 pm.
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