CLINTON, Miss. — The No. 1-ranked LSU-Eunice softball team (64-3) dominated the opposition for nearly four months.
But the Lady Bengals’ second consecutive NJCAA Division II championship win an 8-6 win over No. 2 Jones County Junior College is a result of how they responded when they weren’t dominant.
They dug themselves a hole with a 9-7 loss to Jones County (52-6) on Friday. That meant they would have to win three games — the same number they won on the first three days of the tournament combined — Saturday afternoon at Traceway Park.
They did just that in a remarkable 6½-hour span, taking a gut-churning 1-0 win against Des Moines Area Community College, followed by a 5-1 win against Jones County, then overcoming a 6-0 deficit with six outs left by scoring eight runs in the sixth inning to topple Jones County again.
“It was just heart and guts out there,” said outfielder Emily Nolan, the Most Outstanding Hitter in the tournament. “I’ve never seen a team fight so hard to win. It was amazing. It was insane.”
The Lady Bengals won three games while scoring in exactly one inning in each game: a single run in the seventh inning of the first game, a five-run fifth in the second game, followed by the sixth-inning onslaught in the finale.
“We got the job done,” said first baseman Brooklynn Clark, the tourney’s Most Outstanding Player, “so I guess that’s all that matters.”
They did it with one of their top pitchers and hitters, Destin Vicknair, limited to two innings of pitching and sporadic batting because of a tight lower back.
They finished it with their other top pitcher, Raven Cole, spent after throwing 2.2 innings in the final game in the wake of a complete-game shutout in the opener and five innings of one-run relief after Vicknair in the second game.
When the final out came, the person on the bottom of the dogpile was Elizabeth Delafield, who made her postseason debut by throwing 2.1 scoreless innings to end it.
“She’s got the heart of a champion,” coach Andy Lee said of Delafield, whose last appearance came 21 days earlier on Sophomore Day.
Delafield entered the game with a 6-0 deficit, got the final out in the fifth, then returned to the mound with an 8-6 lead.
“I knew if I could hold them, our team could outscore them,” Delafield said. “I told myself to stay calm, cool and collected, that it was just another ballgame. I knew I had it in me.”
Taylor Boulet led off the sixth with a single, and Clark and Nolan followed with singles. Carey Alexis walked to force in a run.
Danielle Cruickshank doubled home two runs, and a third scored when right fielder Reagan Gavin misplayed the ball. After two outs, Morgan Tauzin and Codi Covington walked. Boulet reached again on a two-base error by shortstop Lauren Holifield that allowed two runs to score and tie the game.
A wild pitch sent Boulet home with the go-ahead run, and Clark singled home the eighth run.
“All weekend we struggled stringing hits together, and a few home runs saved us,” Boulet said. “We were focused on getting one base hit at a time, and I was able to start it off. Hitting is contagious.”
In the opener, Cole and Bears starter Riley Fisher, who was named the Most Outstanding Pitcher in the tournament despite losing twice to the Lady Bengals, both had shutouts through six innings. Fisher got the first two outs in the top of the seventh before Vicknair walked. Ginny Daggett pinch ran and stole second before Alexis doubled her home.
“Somebody had to step up and do it, and I guess I was supposed to be that person,” Alexis said.
The Bears threatened to tie or win after one out in the bottom half. Fisher singled and Kaylee Buch doubled off the top of the fence in left. Tauzin made a diving grab of Katlin Briley’s pop behind the plate, and Jamie Reynolds grounded back to Cole to extend the season.
The second game began as another pitchers’ duel, but Vicknair lasted just two scoreless innings.
“It was OK in the first inning, but it started hurting in the second inning,” Vicknair said. “I wasn’t going to tell coach because I wanted to finish for my team, but he could see I was hurting.”
Cole relieved to start the third and surrendered CC Lawn’s RBI single that gave the Bobcats a 1-0 lead in the fourth.
In the bottom of the fifth, LSU-Eunice turned three hits, two walks a wild pitch and sacrifice fly into five runs, and Cole finished her five-inning relief stint with two hitless innings.
She started to feel soreness in her upper arm, and it finally caught up to her after she relieved third-game starter Kayla Davidson, who allowed just a solo homer to Kim Nilsson of Covington in two innings.
“We had one focus, and that was to win game by game,” Cole said. “We could have given up, but that’s not us. We had a lot of heart and knew we had fight.”