For a team that had so many great hits and moments their 2018 season ended one hit short.
The team affectionately known as #Team50 staged a miracle rally in the elimination game in the bottom of the 7th inning at James I Moyer Field in Salem, Virginia at the Division II National Championship Tournament, only to see their rally fall 60 feet short. Southern Arkansas outlasted the Wildcats in a 12-11 thriller that won’t soon be forgotten.
It may take awhile for the Chico State team to look back on this game with admiration, but in due time they will realize it was THAT type of effort and spirited play that made this team so lovable. This Wildcat team made fans out of all of us, as we sat mezmerized over the last 6 weeks marveling at their amazing win streak (29 games) and their thrilling CCAA Tournament Title, Sub-Regional wins over Cal Baptist in Chico and their gut-churning Super Regional win over perennial power Dixie State. The feats are etched.
Chico jumped on top in the bottom of the 2nd inning after banging out a hit and drawing three walks to score the game’s first run. But Southern Arkansas batted around in the top of the 3rd chasing Chico starter Haley Gilham, scoring four times and taking a 4-1 lead. The Cats immediately came off the mat to score four of their own in the bottom of the third, highlighted by a 3-run blast by Bailey Akins giving Chico State a 5-4 lead.
Chico State Head Coach Angel Shamblin had pulled Gilham in the top of the 3rd she went to left-handed reliever Sam Mulock. The southpaw retired seven hitters in a row bridging the 3rd thru 5th innings and after the Wildcats added an insurance run in the 4th, Chico took a 6-4 lead into the top of the 6th inning.
Mulock would walk the lead-off hitter in the 6th and that would spark a four-run Southern Arkansas rally. They plated four runs in the inning to turn a two-run deficit into an 8-6 lead. The Cats would scratch out a run in the bottom of the 6th on a RBI double by senior Cyrena Taylor, who had a tremendous national tournament. Taylor was on base all five times she came to the plate in Friday night’s game, drawing two walks, banging out two hits and reaching base on an error. Taylor was only retired once in her nine plate appearances at the tournament. But, the Cats would leave Taylor at 3rd and trailed 8-7 heading to the 7th,
Southern Arkansas would once again add runs in the 7th and it came on one swing of the bat by Megan Godoyo, her two-out grand slam had seemingly put the game out of reach going to the bottom of the 7th inning as Chico trailed 12-7.
Chico was down five with only three outs to go, but the Wildcats gave their faithful followers one final thrilling half inning of softball. With one out Bailey Akins hit her 2nd home run of the night cutting the Wildcats deficit to 12-8. The next hitter Megan Bowley would work the count full and eventually hit a liner that was dropped by the Southern Arkansas shortstop for an error, Wendy Cardinali then hit a pop-up in front of home plate that was clanked by the So. Arkansas reliever Brooke Ford-Nelson, she then inadvertently kicked the ball all the way to the back-stop putting runners at 1st and 3rd with one out. After Kristin Worley’s laser hit the Southern Arkansas second baseman in the shin and kicked into short center, the Cats had cut the deficit to 12-9 and had the tying run coming to the plate in Ari Marsh. Marsh would line one into the left-center field gap and it skipped all the way to the wall both Bowley and Cardinali would score and all of a sudden the Cats trailed only 12-11 and had the tying run at second with only one out. Taylor then lined a single to right moving Marsh to 3rd. Chico had the tying and winning runs on base. After a ground out back to the pitcher by Karli Skowrup moved Taylor, the possible winning run to second, Claire Wayne stepped in. Her pop-up to third base would end it, bringing to a close a remarkable and incredibly entertaining 2018 Chico State softball season.
The Wildcats rallies were stuff of legend, but when they look back they may cringe at the opportunities missed, not only from Friday night but also from Thursday night’s tournament opening loss versus Saint Leo. In that 3-2 loss the Cats managed only four hits but they received seven walks while leaving 9 runners on base all while going 0-for-8 with RISP. On Friday the Cats banged out 10 hits, received 6 walks and 5 base runners due to Southern Arkansas errors. Chico would go 5-for-16 with runners in scoring position.
#Team50’s season may have ended without a National Championship, but in the end they may have done something even more valuable for their program and school. For one four-month stretch they became the talk of the town, they seized the mantle of most favored status in the athletic department halls and left a lasting legacy of excellence that will be very difficult to top. Years from now when #Team50 gathers at reunions, they will smile and remember, a season that was, and a legacy that was left behind.
Photo Courtesy of Chico State Athletics