Softball team moves to championship series

Senior Harlie Barkley hits a ground ball during UNA’s 5-1 win against Adelphi University May 18 at the Regency Athletic Complex in Denver. Barkley drove in three runs in the Lions’ victory over Southern Arkansas, helping UNA advance to the final series May 20-21.

The moment UNA’s softball team has worked for all year has officially arrived.

The Lions fell behind early against Southern Arkansas, a familiar foe from the first round, but answered a 1-0 deficit with three runs in the third inning. After the Lady Muleriders closed the gap in the top of the fourth inning to 3-2 with a solo home run, UNA scored seven runs in the bottom half, forcing a 10-2 mercy rule victory in five innings.

The win put the Lions in the national championship final for the first time in school history.

“I’ve run out of things to say about this team,” said UNA coach Ashley Cozart. “It’s just emotional. These girls are just not ready to quit. This has been the best year of my life.”

Senior Courtney Shields started the scoring for UNA in the third inning, tying the game with a solo homerun to center field. Three at-bats later, sophomore Reagan Tittle drove in two runs on an RBI-single, giving the Lions a 3-1 lead.

Senior Peyton DeLong led off the fourth inning with a single, setting up the top half of the batting order for a solid inning. With the bases loaded and two outs, senior Harlie Barkley drove in three runs on an RBI-triple, giving UNA momentum with a 6-1 lead. Barkley, junior Danielle Cruickshank, Tittle and senior Madeline Lee each netted a run to cap the scoring.

Junior pitcher Hillary Carpenter, who allowed two runs on four hits in the game, finished the final inning with two strikeouts and a putout to land the Lions in the championship series.

“Hillary once again just threw an amazing game,” Cozart said. “I just can’t say enough about her on the mound. Just her composure she had that game with a lot of tough calls (helped).”

Carpenter, who hit five batters and walked two more through five innings, said although she did not have her best effort on the mound, she is fortunate to have a stellar offense to back her up.

“Even though it wasn’t my best game, my defense and the bats really backed me up,” Carpenter said. “They always do. It’s amazing how I can hit (that many) batters and we can still go out and run rule a team.”

Barkley, who bats behind senior slugger Brooklynn Clark, said she becomes motivated when opponents pitch around the dangerous Clark, as multiple pitchers have done this post season.

“It gets me pretty pumped whenever they walk (Clark) and think I’m going to be easy,” Barkley said.

The Lions are two games away from completing their quest to the Division II National Championship. The last UNA sport to win a national championship was the 2003 volleyball team.

The winner of Humboldt State (California) and Armstrong State (Georgia) will face UNA tomorrow at 6 p.m. The final series will be a best-of-three, with Game Two taking place Saturday at 1 p.m. and Game Three (if necessary) approximately 30 minutes after.