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Williams' HR gives IWU softball walkoff win

WILDCAT WINNER: Sydney Williams (right, with helmet on) celebrates with her Indiana Wesleyan teammates at home plate after she smacked a game-winning home run leading off the bottom of the eighth inning to give the Wildcats a 6-5 win over Central Baptist (Arkansas) in the opening round of the NAIA National Tournament Monday afternoon on IWU's campus.

BY SCOTT HUNT - shunt@chronicle-tribune.com

The last at bat was a microcosm of the entire game between Indiana Wesleyan and Central Baptist College (Arkansas) that opened up play in the NAIA softball national tournament early Monday afternoon.

The host of the Marion Bracket and second-seeded Wildcats traded blows with the third-seed Mustangs through seven innings and the teams stood tied at 5-5 heading into extra frames.

After sophomore pitcher Addie Benham retired CBC hitters in order in the top of the eighth inning, IWU junior right fielder Sydney Williams led off for the Wildcats and waged an epic at bat against Mustangs' junior pitcher Rachel Gregory.

Williams took ball one before fouling off the next two offerings from Gregory. Another pitch out of the strike zone followed and the count stood 2-2 as Williams fouled four-consecutive pitches off, keeping the at bat alive and looking for a pitch she could put the barrel of the bat upon.

That came on the ninth pitch, and Williams slugged it over the center field fence for a walk-off solo home run and a 6-5 win for IWU.

"I struck out the at bat before so I was determined to not do that again," Williams said with a big smile. "I really just tried to keep my head clear and look for that one pitch."

The 13th-ranked Wildcats (43-13-1) will meet top-seed and 10th-ranked Oregon Tech (41-15) at 11 a.m. today. Oregon Tech beat fourth-seeded Siena Heights (Michigan), 4-1. The four-team, double-elimination opening round tournament will conclude on Wednesday with the winner earning a trip to Springfield, Missouri for the 10-team, NAIA Softball World Series that begins on May 23. 

 

Williams drew a walk and scored one of the Wildcats' three runs in the third inning and also reached base in the fourth on one of Central Baptist's three errors in the game. The homer was Williams third of the season and the biggest of her career.

"Sydney has been working hard her whole career and as a junior she's been able to jump in because of injury, injury to other people in the lineup," said IWU coach Steve Babinski. "She's been really clutch for us. That at bat ... she just kept building confidence and staying alive for the mistake. I don't know where that pitch was, but it was a mistake."

The Mustangs turned a leadoff walk in the first inning into a 1-0 lead that stood until the third inning when IWU's Kira Madl had the first of her two singles to drive in a run and give the Wildcats a 2-1 lead. Miranda Wehrle followed with a triple of the base of the right field fence to extend the lead to 3-1 for the 'Cats.

CBC scored three runs in the fifth inning to move back on top, 5-4, but it was short lived. IWU loaded the bases with no outs in the home fifth before Rebecca Schrad lined a single into to left with two outs putting IWU in front 5-4.

Central turned a pair of base hits into the tying run in the sixth setting the stage for the dramatic conclusion.

Mckenzey Ridge started in the circle for the Wildcats and 6.1 innings allowing eight hits and five runs with just the leadoff walk and one strike out. Benham allowed just one hit and one walk in her 1.2 innings to pick up the win. IWU's defense made several key plays behind its pair of pitchers.  

"Our pitchers are pitch to contact. Their goal is simply to pitch it off of anywhere but the barrel," Babinski said. " ... we want to feed our defense. It's not about strikeouts. For the most part it was putting ourselves in position to win all game and all year that's what we've been doing.

"I believe we have a world series defense and world series offense, we just need to put everything in perspective every inning," he added.

Schrad and Madl each collected two of IWU's nine hits. 

"It was just a fun game, a lot of clutch hitting. I was really impressed by Central and their ability to come up with two-out base hits," Babinski said. "Hits that maybe you don't plan on in the batting cage but hits that fall. Just really, really excited. Excited to end it that way because I know their top of the order was flipping around pretty soon."