The Walk-Off: South Carolina handles Utah, FSU creates chaos vs. Stanford

Courtesy of South Carolina Athletics

While most eyes turned to the start of the Clearwater Invitational, the Puerto Vallarta College Challenge gave us a good look at an SEC competitor.

Mardjetko, Vawter quiet No. 14 Utah’s bats, No. 21 South Carolina offense breaks it open late

Remember the idea that South Carolina might use a similar route to success as Stanford? That came to fruition as Sage Mardjetko and Alana Vawter combined to shut down the Utes in a 9-1 run-rule win. 

Mardjetko was masterful against a strong Utah lineup. The freshman didn’t care that the Utes went to the Women’s College World Series last season; she attacked, and that impressed the great Cat Osterman, who was on the broadcast, which should mean a lot.

Utah didn’t find its first hit until Aliya Belarde lifted a home run to lead off the fourth inning. Julia Jimenez followed with a single. The Utes had started to make adjustments. Mardjetko responded like a veteran, ending the threat and finishing the frame with a nasty strikeout against Abby Dayton. She set down the side in order in the fifth.

What was the trick on Thursday? Nothing special, she just used her full arsenal of pitches. The second inning encapsulated that. Mardjetko opened Jimenez off with a first-pitch changeup that she rolled up to the circle. After falling behind to Dayton, she got her to pop up in foul territory. Mardjetko went right at the dangerous Karlie Davison, getting her to whiff on a riseball and tying her up on a screwball on the inside corner.

The Gamecocks only held a two-run lead entering the sixth, so Beverly Smith turned to her All-American to give the Utes a different look from the circle. Vawter allowed a single but preserved the two-run lead that South Carolina’s offense extended to the point that she didn’t have to come back out of the dugout.

Speaking of those bats, they got hot in a hurry. Kianna Jones, who has propelled herself into the heart of the order, started the scoring with a solo home run off of Sarah Ladd. The former Minnesota and North Carolina two-way has had quite the start to the season as she sits with a .875 batting average.

The floodgates opened in the sixth as talented freshman Karley Shelton hit a two-run pinch-hit bomb. The Gamecocks took advantage of redshirt freshman Taylor Jacobs and a few Utah miscues before Marissa Gonzalez’ double put the run rule into effect. 

In big games, we’ll likely see the combination of Sage Mardjetko and Alana Vawter more and more. If the offense and defense can hold up, the Gamecocks will keep getting ranked wins. 

No. 18 Kentucky, North Carolina get wild in Clearwater

Hopefully, you had your coffee and breakfast ready to go for this one. In the blink of an eye, these two teams combined to score 11 runs in the first inning. While North Carolina threatened in the seventh, Kentucky held on for the 12-10 win. 

Where to begin? The Wildcats early sixth-run lead disappeared after Isabela Emerling’s two-run homer cut the lead to one. As Kentucky’s bats went cold, the Tar Heels kept going. Emerling hit her second home run to give North Carolina the lead as part of a four-run inning. 

Taylor Ebbs reignited Kentucky with a line drive home to pull within one. Then she found a two-out single to tie the game in the top of the sixth before pinch hitter Peyton Plotts singled in the go-ahead run. The Wildcats added a pair of insurance runs in the seventh that they ended up needing. 

North Carolina never gave in down to its final outs. They loaded the bases without an out but the Tar Heels were on the wrong side of a double play as Kenna Raye Dark was ruled out at first after Kentucky got a force at home as she was too far inside the runner lane. Stephanie Schoonover, who threw 100-plus pitchers in relief, got Carlie Myrtle looking to end the game and strand the tying run at second base. 

Every Kentucky starter recorded a hit. North Carolina’s Alex Coleman and Destiny Middleton combined to go 8-for-8. The teams each had at least 17 hits and left 11 runners stranded. Quite the offensive display. 

Dallis says Goodnight to Wisconsin’s upset attempt

Dallis Goodnight picked a good time for her first hit of the season. Goodnight didn’t play opening weekend but her presence was felt in week two as she knocked a single through the middle to secure No. 4 Georgia’s 7-6 extra-inning win over Wisconsin.

The Badgers decided to load the bases by intentionally walking back-to-back batters as the winning run stood at third with one out. The choice based it being able to get the force out at any base didn’t pan out. Goodnight sent it back toward Tessa Magnanimo – who had a very good outing – to escape the upset.

The two teams played great situational softball throughout extra innings, moving runners over via sacrifice bunts and scoring on squeeze plays. In the top of the 10th, Georgia’s defense found a way.

Shelby Walters struck out Ellie Hubbard to get the first out with runners at second and third. Brooke Kuffel failed to get the bunt down and Sarah Gordon was able to pick off Ava Kuszak at third. Walters then set Kuffel down on strikes to keep the game tied.

Wisconsin raced out to a four-run lead, knocking out starter Madison Kerpics in the second. Maybe the Badgers wish they hadn’t. Lilli Backes came into the circle and dominated. Well, she started with a hit batter and a passed ball, but after that it was easygoing.

The lefty transfer from North Carolina controlled the zone on both sides with her curveball and produced silly swings with her changeup as she racked up six strikeouts and allowed one hit in 5.1 innings. That allowed the Bulldogs, who did not have their best approaches at the plate, to come back and push the game to extra innings.

Florida State defeats Stanford in typical Florida State fashion

Solid defense, keeping hitters off-balanced and manufacturing runs. You’ve probably heard this Florida State story before. It was written again on Thursday, as the seventh-ranked Seminoles beat No. 9 Stanford 4-0.

As the nation knows, it’s hard to find key hits against NiJaree Canady to score runs. Florida State found another way. The Noles stayed patient, forcing walks and miscues from the Cardinal defense.

Florida State managed to break the scoreless contest in the fifth with a three-run frame that had one (1) hit. Isa Torres hit a little bloop that fell in between Canady and Aly Kaneshiro that started the frame. Then disaster struck for Stanford. Jaysoni Beachum forced a walk. Kaneshiro couldn’t hang onto a pitch that moved the runners. Torres scored on a sacrifice fly. Stanford first baseman Ava Gall dropped the third out of the inning as the second run scored. Pinch runner Autumn Belviy stole second and then third when a clear miscommunication between Kaneshiro and third baseman Jade Berry saw the throw go into the outfield, allowing Belviy to score.

The Seminoles added another run via a wild pitch in the sixth. The Stanford defense, which had five errors in its two losses to Kentucky, will be a work in progress. The entire infield in either new; transfer Taryn Kern, Gall and Berry or playing a new position as River Mahler moved from second to shortstop.

Defenders were the difference. While Stanford had issues, Torres gave us a glimpse of Josie Muffley. Florida State Allison Royalty had already worked out of a bases-loaded, no-out jam. This time she needed help from her shortstop. Kern finally struck a ball that appeared to be headed for the gap to give Stanford a 2-0 lead, but instead the ball met a leaping Torres’ glove for the final out of the frame. Canady never got a chance to work with the lead and see her record drop to 1-2.

 On the other side of the circle, Royalty’s ability to work through the four free passes she gave up is a huge development if she can continue to do that. Freshman Ashtyn Danley showed us her devasting changeup on the national stage throwing two scoreless innings to close the game.

Softball around America

  • It was not all great for South Carolina. The Gamecocks fell to Wichita State 6-5 in the second leg of their doubleheader, and it was one of the weirdest endings. Addison Barnard and Bailey Urban drove in four runs in the top of the seventh to put the Shockers on top. South Carolina proceeded to load the bases with one out. Zoe Laneaux grounded a ball to first base and Wichita State threw it home for the force out. However, Laneaux thought she was out, vacating the base. The Shockers realized it and tagged her out after she ran back out to end the game.
  • Stanford may have used all its power in its 15-7 win versus Georgia Tech to start the day. Aly Kaneshiro hit three home runs herself. Ava Gall, Johnna Schroeder and Caelan Koch had blasts as well. The Cardinal had six home runs in the contest, while only having 26 bombs all of last season.
  •  Maddie Penta and Mariah Lopez got into a pitching duel in Mexico. Each had incredible defense behind them. In the end, Penta was a little sharper. Lopez’s control dropped off in the seventh of a scoreless game. She walked two batters and allowed a single before walking another on four pitches as Auburn beat Utah 1-0.
  • Baylor secured its first win of the season with a 3-2 victory over McNeese before heading for a three-game set against the Ragin’ Cajuns. The Bears scored three runs in the third behind RBIs from Aliyah Binford and Sydney Collazos. RyLee Crandall and Binford split the innings in the circle.
  • Arizona State got back in the win column against its future Big 12 foe. Sara Kinch and Alesia Denby homered in the 10-6 win over BYU. Mac Osborne helped stop the crazy scoring, throwing five innings of relief and producing 11 groundouts to limit the Cougars to one run.
  • Arizona improved to 7-0 with its sixth and seventh run-rule in a doubleheader sweep of Long Beach State. The Wildcats have outscored opponents 60-4 thus far this season. Can they keep the momentum against Arkansas? That will be one of the biggest questions on Friday.
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