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AUM wins softball World Series

(May 30, 2014)

COLUMBUS, Ga. - Kayla Hale hit a pair of home runs and Taylor Powell tossed 6 2/3 effective innings in her first appearance of the tournament, as the Auburn Montgomery softball team defeated William Carey 10-6 to claim the first NAIA National Championship in the program’s six-year history Thursday.

The Warhawks (44-7) were forced to play the if-necessary game after dropping the first game to the Crusaders (52-12), 7-4. The national title marks the 23rd all-time in AUM athletics history, but the first by a team other than the men’s and women’s tennis teams.

“I’m very emotional right now,” head coach Chris Steiner-Wilcoxson said. “I’ve always wanted it for our program and our kids. This is what we fought for from the first day we started the program. From what our dreams and our goals were, I can’t believe it’s a reality right now.”

After pounded out four hits and scoring twice in the final inning of the opener, the Warhawks carried over the momentum into game two and pushed across four runs in the first inning. Therese Byrne and Katie Spain each collected one-out singles, while Lauren Shaw walked to load the bases. Hale put AUM on the board with a RBI groundout, before Jade Sasser connected on a two-run double and extended the lead to 3-0. Following a pitching change, Powell followed with a single past second base, plating Sasser and putting the Warhawks in control.

Pitching for the first time since May 13, Powell (22-1) kept WCU at bay offensively, retiring the first 11 hitters of the game in order, five via strikeout. In the game, she allowed nine hits and six runs (three earned) to earn the national championship clinching victory.

“I had some nerves, but I was so confident in the team and I knew they weren’t going to let me down,” Powell said. “We really hit the ball well tonight, so that made my job a lot easier. We came in to the season thinking we had a national championship caliber team. Tonight, we made history. We did it.”

Jasmine Shelby cut the lead to 4-1 with a RBI double in the fourth inning, as the Crusaders took advantage of a fielding error by the Warhawks.

However, Hale launched a solo homer in the top of the fifth inning to gain the run back for AUM.

Leading 5-1 heading to the sixth inning, AUM exploded for five runs to extend its lead to 10-1. Hale added a three-run homer and Spain a RBI single, while Byrne also scored on a double steal. In the frame, the Warhawks tallied three hits with the homer being the key blow, and capitalized on an error and a pair of walks.

Refusing to go away quietly, the Crusaders pushed across two runs in the sixth inning on a home run by Sarah Beckham to cut the margin to 10-3.

In the seventh inning, put three runs on the board off four hits and an error before Cassie Daniels saved the victory, getting out of a two-out, bases-loaded jam when Spain tagged third to forced out Hannah Cook-Kelley.

Byrne finished with three of AUM’s 10 hits, while Hale drove in five in the victory. Sasser added a pair of RBIs. Byrne, Spain and Hale each scored twice. Beckham drove in three runs for the Crusaders.

Brittany LeBlanc (22-8) took the loss for William Carey, lasting just 2/3 of an inning and surrendering four runs. Brooklyn Guillot threw the final 6 1/3 innings, allowing seven hits and six runs, only one of which was earned.

The Warhawks became the 21st different school to claim a NAIA Softball World Series title in the 34-year history. The 10 runs scored by Auburn Montgomery was the second-most in World Series history and the most since Oklahoma City notched a 12-0 victory in the 1997 contest.

Following the tournament, Daniels, Spain and Shaw were named to the 2014 NAIA Softball All-World Series Team. Daniels was selected the World Series Most Valuable Player after finishing 3-1 with a 1.54 earned run average. She struck out 27 in 27 1/3 innings, tossed a pair of shutouts and collected a save in the title game.

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