Lions punch ticket to Division II Championship

Joseph Romans
UNA softball players storm the field after the final out against Rollins College in the Division II South Super Regional May 11 at the UNA Softball Complex. The Lions will compete in the Division II Championship tournament in Denver for the first time in school history May 17-21.

For the first time in program history, the UNA softball team is heading to the NCAA Division II Championship tournament.

The Lions (55-6, 30-3 Gulf South Conference) defeated Rollins College in a double header to advance to Denver next week for the eight-team double elimination tournament. The final scores were 3-0 and 6-5, respectively.

Despite all the records the Lions have broke this season, the motto for the team all year has been make it to Denver for the national championship, said UNA coach Ashley Cozart.

“We want to make some noise (in Denver),” Cozart said. ”We have the best team to do it. We’ve seen the toughest competition, we have the pitching staff and we have the defense (to win). I don’t want them to just be satisfied on just getting (to the championship).”

In game one of the double header, junior pitcher Hillary Carpenter shut down the Tars, recording her fourth straight shutout victory.

UNA carried that momentum over into game two, jumping out to an early 3-0 lead. Rollins responded with five unanswered runs to give the Lions their first deficit of the series.

After a solo home run from Rollins’ senior pitcher Niki Fogle in the fifth inning, UNA turned to their seniors to respond.

The Lions used back-to-back two-out singles by seniors Courtney Shields and Brooklynn Clark to set the table for their cleanup hitter, senior Harlie Barkley. Barkley kept the game alive with a two-run double, tying the game at five and forcing extra innings.

In the top of the eighth inning, with runners on first and third base and one out, senior second baseman Madeline Lee came to the plate looking to give her team the lead.

Lee delivered an RBI sacrifice fly to score the winning run.

“My mindset was just get on (base) anyway I can, and be productive at the plate,” Lee said. “I just had it in my mind that I needed this hit and that we were going to win.”

The resilience the Lions have shown all year is a true testament of the veteran players, Cozart said.

“(The seniors) stepped up when we really needed them, and I can’t say enough about them,” Cozart said. They are selfless, and I just love them so much.”

Clark’s solo home run in the first game was her 16th of the season, giving her the UNA single season record. Sophomore Bailey Nelson also broke a single-season school record, scoring her 67th run of the year.

UNA will be in the eight-team field competing in the NCAA Division II Championship May 17-21 in Denver.