Missed opportunities seal SFA’s fate in 2-0 defeat

SAN MARCOS, Texas – Stephen F. Austin missed out on early scoring opportunities Saturday, falling 2-0 to UT Arlington in an elimination game at the Southland Conference Softball Tournament. The loss knocked the top-seeded Ladyjacks from the tournament and moved the No. 3 Mavs into a showdown with No. 2 Texas State.

SFA ends its season at 29-20 after capturing a share of the first Southland Conference championship in school history. The loss against UT Arlington marks the seventh time in eight meetings for the Mavs to top SFA over the last two seasons. UTA has swept each of the last two regular-season series.

Each team put up six hits Saturday, and SFA had four base knocks go for extra bases. But the Ladyjacks just couldn't come up with the big hits when they needed them.

SFA left runners in scoring position each of the first three innings. The Ladyjacks squandered a one-out triple off the right-field wall by Kendal Harper in the top of the first. In the second, Kayla Gutowski walked to lead off, then moved into scoring position on a single by Karissa Jones, but was stranded there. In the third inning, Harper doubled to shallow left with one out and moved to third on a base knock by Jessica Arana. Arana would take second on a ground ball, but both runners were stranded.

Meanwhile, SFA starter Monika Covington danced around trouble early in the game. The Mavericks got two base hits with one out in the second, but Covington escaped on a ground ball and a foul pop.

UTA got a leadoff single in the third, but the Ladyjack defense squashed any hopes for a rally. The Mavs' Rebecca Collom tried to bunt Courney Zink over, but SFA first baseman Gutowski charged hard and made a diving play on a pop-up in foul territory. Zink then tried to steal second, but catcher Brittany Caruthers gunned her down for the inning's second out. Covington would get out of the inning two at-bats later with a ground ball to short.

But the Mavericks broke through with a big two-out hit in the bottom of the fourth. Heather Fortenberry singled to right with one out. A strikeout brought Courtney Enocksen to the dish with two down, and she belted a high home run over the wall in left field to give UTA a 2-0 lead.

SFA threatened again in the top of the sixth. Briana Bishop led off with a double off the bottom of the right-field wall. She was lifted for pinch-runner Michele Huffman. But Huffman got caught in no-man's land between second and third when the next batter, Gutowski, grounded sharply back to pitcher Teri Lyles. Lyles chased her down, then threw to second for the easy out. Ashley Struchtemeyer then grounded into a fielder's choice, erasing Gutowski at second, and Caruthers went down swinging to end the inning.

SFA flashed the leather again in the bottom of the sixth. Brittany Washington drew a one-out walk to bring Enocksen to bat. She turned on a pitch and smashed a line drive, but it was right at Bishop on third. She made the grab then threw across the diamond to double off Washington and end the inning.

Down to their final three outs, the Ladyjacks made a little noise in the seventh. Amber Price roped a double to the wall in right-center to bring the top of the order to the plate with one out. The next batter, Bethany Brown, put a charge into the first pitch she saw, but got under it for a fly ball to center. Harper drew a walk to bring Arana to bat, but the sophomore grounded back to Lyles to end the Ladyjacks' season.

Covington took the loss to finish the year with a 14-12 record. She was charged with two runs on six hits and three walks with two strikeouts.

Bishop's double in the sixth gave her 37 for her career, setting a new school record for doubles to go along with her career marks in home runs, RBI and walks.

Harper went 2-for-3 with a double and a triple in her final game as a Ladyjack, adding to her career-record totals for both base hits and triples.

Arana, Jones and Price each hit safely once.