After the pandemic ended their season before Ohio Valley Conference action began last year, the APSU softball team — Team 36 — came away with their first conference victories at Cathi Maynard Park since April 28, 2019.
The Governors swept their three-game series against Morehead State, and while all three victories were decided by multiple runs, each contest presented its own unique level of excitement and drama.
Led by fifth-year senior Kelsey Gross, the Govs got out to a fast start in game one against the Eagles.
After retiring MSU’s first three batters from the mound, Gross stepped up to the plate in the bottom-half of the first inning and drove in a pair of runs on a double to quickly give her team a 2-0 lead.
It was not until the fourth inning that the Eagles got on the board with their sole run of the night.
Following their lead being reduced to just one run, Brett Jackson gave APSU breathing room with a triple in the fifth that drove in Gross and freshman Alyssa Archuleta.
Gross allowed a single hit in the final three innings and came away with her fourth win of the new season. The win marked her 12th straight, a streak that began on Feb. 16, 2019 with a 12-2 victory against Jackson State. It also tied the program record for consecutive wins that Gross now shares with former teammate, Morgan Rackel.
Following the 4-1 victory, the Govs finished off their Sunday doubleheader with a 4-0 win led by the pitching of Harley Mullins.
While the first two batters reached base on a walk and single respectively, Mullins went on to scatter two hits throughout the contest and tossed the first shutout of her career in a complete game.
Game three forced APSU to play in an unprecedented situation early—from behind.
In the top of the first, the Eagles loaded the bases behind a trio of singles. They were able to escape the sticky situation fairly unscathed, but a single run found the Govs trailing for the first time in the series.
Gross singled in Kelsey Gray for to tie the score in the bottom of the first and thus began a streak of seven unanswered runs for the red and black.
Kendyl Weinzapfel’s RBI in the bottom of the second gave APSU their first lead of the afternoon, but a Lexi Osowski three-run home run to deep center field put the Govs up 5-1 following the next at bat.
The team looked as if they were going to put their opponent away early with a 7-1 lead after three; however, a trio of fifth inning runs by MSU brought the Eagles back within striking distance down the stretch.
Gross took over from the circle for Mullins following MSU’s strong fifth inning and held the Eagles to three hits and a single run in her 2.1 innings of relief.
The series marked the first three-game sweep at Cathi Maynard Park for APSU in nearly eight years and brought their overall record to an impressive 9-4 with a 4-2 mark in OVC play.
Monday’s contest against Morehead State had its start time moved numerous times due to weather. After players and coaches worked to prepare the field throughout the day, APSU head coach Kassie Stanfill says she used the team’s hours of preparation as a source of motivation.
“We did everything we could this morning to work on the field and get our conditions even playable,” Stanfill said. “Our athletes put in a long, long day. We kept reminding them that we did not want to do all of that work just to come out here and lose. We were going to find a way to win and that is what we did. We stayed under control.
“Our defense stayed behind their pitchers and we kept having quality at bats as we were working through. Yes, it was stressful at times when you think someone is going to come back and get the lead, but our girls did an awesome job of keeping their composure and then just battling it out.”
Throughout the past year, it has not been unusual for teams to be without multiple key players for reasons ranging from injury to contact tracing. With the exact reasons are unknown, the Governors were without a pair of veteran starters in Bailey Shorter and Emily Harkleroad against the Eagles. This allowed for coach Stanfill to give the nod to players who had not seen much action thus far in the season and showcase the team’s versatility.
“In Team 36 we really do have a lot of depth,” Stanfill said. “We have 25 athletes on our team and every day we practice like all 25 have a chance to be a starter and I think this weekend showed that. You never know when it will be your time to get called on.
“This weekend we had some new names in the lineup, and they came out and did exactly what they were supposed to do. They have worked for this, that is just kind of how we do things around here. Everyone practices hard and when it is their time, they shine.”
APSU will welcome the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders to Clarksville, Tenn. on Wednesday. The last time the two programs met, the Governors ended a five-game losing streak against their inner-state foe with a 10-6 win in Murfreesboro, Tenn.