BELLEVUE, Neb. -- For the third time in as many seasons the Bellevue University softball team defeated Central Baptist College in the "if necessary" game of the Midlands Collegiate Athletic Conference Tournament to secure a berth in the NAIA National Tournament. Bellevue dropped the first championship game by a 5-3 margin before rallying for a 5-4 come-from-behind thriller in the nightcap.
Bellevue entered the championship round with an unblemished record in tournament play and needing to beat Central Baptist just once to secure the MCAC's automatic bid. Central Baptist, after having beaten Oklahoma Wesleyan University earlier in the day, needed to win two straight games to claim the title.
With the championship Bellevue (39-12-1) has now won 13 MCAC Tournament Championships and advanced to the NAIA National Tournament eighth time in program history. Central Baptist finishes the season with a record of 24-16.
Despite winning 39 games and playing one of the strongest out-of-conference schedules in the nation Bellevue has been (and continues to be) overlooked in the Coaches' Poll. The MCAC Championship validates what head coach Michala Cimino has said throughout the season, that the Bruins are a strong team, capable of competing with anyone.
After the game Coach Cimino said, "Of all the conference championship wins that I've been a part of at Bellevue, this is by far the most rewarding. That's because of how hard our players have worked and the players knowing that our backs were against the wall and the only way we could get to nationals is by winning the conference championship and they came through when they needed to!"
Bellevue will await the May 7 announcement of the 40 team NAIA National Tournament field to find out where they will be going and against whom they'll be playing. Opening Round hosts are Auburn University at Montgomery (Montgomery, Ala.), Central Methodist University (Fayette, Mo.), Concordia University (Irvine, Calif.), Lindsey Wilson College (Columbia, Ky.), Louisiana State University Alexandria (Alexandria, La.), Oklahoma City University (Oklahoma City, Okla.), Oregon Institute of Technology (Klamath Falls, Ore.), St. Gregory's University (Shawnee, Okla.), University of South Carolina Beaufort (Hardeeville, S.C.), and William Carey University (Hattiesburg, Miss.)
Game One: Central Baptist 5, Bellevue 3
Central Baptist scored three third inning runs to extend a 1-0 advantage on their way to claiming a 5-3 victory over Bellevue in the first championship game.
The Mustangs struck first with a first inning sac fly by Miranda Manchester to chase home Lauren Sweeten.
After the two sides exchanged second inning zeroes, Central Baptist loaded the bases with three consecutive singles. Manchester hit the second of her three sac flies on the game to plate Alyssa Fontillas. With runners on second and third Haley Baugh lined a single through the left side to score Sweeten. A sac fly by Joella Bayles brought in Jordon Jones with the fourth run.
Bellevue clawed out a run in the fifth with a bases loaded fielder's choice by Sydney Robertson to score Sayde Woten. The Bruins, however, stranded two runners on base before they could chip further away at the deficit.
Manchester added her third sac fly of the game in the bottom half of the inning, once again plating Sweeten. Bellevue threatened to tighten the game in the sixth, loading the bases once again, but they weren't able to score. It was part of a frustrating game offensively that saw BU strand eight runners on base.
Bellevue looked to stir up some late inning magic in the seventh when Robertson led off the inning with a bunt single that energized the bench and came home on Shelby Kindelin's eighth home run of the season. Ashley Gigax followed that up with a single but Bayles got the last three outs before any more damage could be done to preserve the Central Baptist victory.
Game Two: Bellevue 5, Central Baptist 4
Clutch hitting and solid pitching helped Bellevue overcome a nightmare third inning as Ashley Gigax's RBI-triple in the seventh inning broke a 4-4 tie to give Bellevue their third straight MCAC Tournament Championship.
The Bruins appeared to carry momentum from the seventh inning of the previous game into this one, scoring a pair of runs in the opening inning. Shelby Kindelin led off the game with a walk and stole second when she saw no one was covering. Three back-to-back singles by Ashley Gigax, Emily Gigax, and Sayde Woten brought home Kindelin and loaded the bases with no outs prompting an early pitching change by the Mustangs. It seemed to pay off with consecutive strikeouts but Michaela Miller reached on an infield single to score another run and keep the inning alive.
Bellevue relinquished the lead the next half inning courtesy of some uncharacteristically sloppy defensive play that allowed Central Baptist to score four unearned runs with two outs to grab a 4-2 lead.
The Bruins stayed the course offensive, slowly chipping away at the Mustangs lead. BU scored a third inning run on a Courtney Schendt triple to right that plated Alex Tooley and tied the game in the bottom of the fourth when Ashley Gigax singled through the left side to bring home Kaitlyn Goney.
The score remained tied into the bottom of the sixth. After a pair of quick outs Bellevue rallied some two-out magic with the top of their order. Kindelin hit a high fly ball off the left field fence for a double to bring Ashley Gigax to the plate. Rather than pitch around the nation's leading home run hitter, Central Baptist opted to pitch to Gigax. She made them pay with a line drive off the first baseman's glove into the right field corner for an RBI-triple.
Starter Kelli Fisher (17-4) tossed a 1-2-3 seventh with Haley Baugh grounding out to Tooley at first for the final out of the game to kick off the Bruin celebration. Fisher logged a complete game, limiting the potent Mustang offense to eight hits and four unearned runs while striking out four.