04/23/13 — MOC softball wins league title, earns first-ever NCAA regional playoff bid

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MOC softball wins league title, earns first-ever NCAA regional playoff bid

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on April 23, 2013 1:47 PM

BURLINGTON -- Mount Olive College did it the hard way.

But it was certainly worth it in the end.

Sophomore Lauren Smith earned Most Valuable Player honors and the Trojans fended off North Greenville, 5-3, in the championship game of the Conference Carolinas softball tournament and punched their first-ever ticket to the NCAA Division II Southeast Regional on Monday afternoon.

"Is there any other way to do it (but the hard way)?" 11th-year MOC head coach Jaime Kylis said. "My head is still in the clouds. They played 35 innings in 24 hours and you want to talk about heart. These kids went to war and they battled.

"I am so happy for them. Not once did they show any type of panic. There was a quiet confidence, still calmness about them that pushed them through."

The second-seeded Trojans (34-14 overall) flipped the switch at the right time in their winner-take-all game against the sixth-seeded Crusaders.

Locked in a scoreless pitcher's duel through 4 1/2 innings, Mount Olive busted the game open in the bottom of the fifth. Jennifer Jones drew a lead-off walk and pinch-runner Megan advanced to second on Danielle Mitchell's one-out single to right-center field.

Ready scored on Beth Overman's base knock. After a strikeout, Kalie Smith stroked a two-RBI single down the left-field line. Tiffany Hawley plated two more runs with a two-RBI double into left-center field.

"After the (first) loss to North Greenville (on Friday), they knew they were going to win this thing," Kylis said. "They never got emotional. I never saw defeat in their eyes and that's what I'm most excited about going into the next tournament we play.

"They found the drive to win at the perfect time.

North Greenville (20-20-1) responded with a three-run, sixth-inning outburst, but could get no closer. Mount Olive starter and all-tournament pick Madison Johnston handed the ball off to Carly White after working five-plus innings inside the circle.

White faced two batters before Smith took over. The Clinton native tossed two innings of one-strikeout relief for her first save of the season.

The trio combined for 57 strikeouts and permitted 19 runs (14 earned) in 56 innings that translated into a solid 1.75 ERA.

"Lauren was outstanding against the top hitters for North Greenville," Kylis said. "Our pitchers worked all week on mentality and it was pitch by pitch (this weekend). We had to change our mindset and we did, and that's what got us through."

MOC posted a .262 team batting average during its title run and scored three or more runs in five of seven games. The defense posted two shutouts in elimination-round play.

"(Assistant) Coach (Craig) Hurba knows this lineup in and out and controlled it in every form during the seven games, which is an absolute blessing to have someone like him on my staff," Kylis said. "We never strayed from the gameplan, as frustrating as it was at times. Coach Hurba made sure we stuck with it.

"He makes sure we're well-tempered in the box. Every time you play, you have a different strike zone and that's something you have to get used to. We adjusted well."

Mount Olive is the eighth Conference Carolinas team to qualify for the NCAA softball tournament in league history. The eight-team, double-elimination regional is May 10-12 at an undetermined site.