LEXINGTON, Ky. – The 2018 Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference (HCAC) Tournament continued on Sunday afternoon with three games to decide a conference tournament champion.
In the first game of the day, the Franklin Grizzlies (29-10) extracted a bit of revenge with an 8-3 win over Mount St. Joseph, setting up a rematch for the conference title with top-seeded Transylvania.
In a showdown between the tournament's top two seeds, the Grizzlies capped off their improbable run to their first ever conference championship, taking a 1-0 classic from the host Pioneers (32-7) to earn the league's automatic bid to the 2018 NCAA Tournament.
"It has been an honor to coach these kids," Head coach Butch Zike said after the game. "Each of the last four years, we have taken a step forward as a program. These kids have made tremendous sacrifices to be successful and this is the pay-off. The title game was what we expected in a Franklin-Transylvania battle with great pitching and defense all over the field. We got a couple of big hits to take the lead and our kids made it stand."
Game One: Franklin 8 – Mount St. Joseph 3
A piece of clutch hitting put the Grizzlies in front in the top of the first, when Natalie Weber singled home Monica Collins with two outs in the inning. That hit galvanized the Franklin bats, as the Grizzlies would go on to add at least one run in each of the first five innings.
Collins doubled the FC lead in the top of the second when Collins dropped a single over the third baseman's head into left field that scored pinch-runner Jaclyn Tackett. One inning later, Danielle Wyse padded the lead with a three-run home run, making it a 5-0 game.
The Lions broke through for a run in their half of the third, but Franklin would get it right back in the fourth when Weber hustled down the line to break up a double play, reaching on a fielder's choice to get the lead back to five.
The Mount got a run back in their half of the fourth and were primed for a big inning with two on, no outs and a run in. But the threat was squashed as Shelby Mager snagged a tough line drive, doubling the runner off second. One batter later, the Grizzlies were out of the inning as Olivia Paszek induced an inning-ending pop out to keep the damage to a run.
Franklin picked their pitcher up with a pair of runs in the fifth. Wyse scored an unearned run on a double play and Collins followed with her fourth hit of the game, an RBI single that scored pinch-runner Samantha Cain.
But the Lions refused to go away quietly, scoring once more in the sixth and putting two on one out in the inning. Once again, the Grizzlies extinguished the threat with a twin-killing, as Grace Paszek fielded a ground ball on the bag at first and fired home to nab the lead runner for the final out of the inning.
The seventh inning was less dramatic, as Franklin retired the Lions in order to close out the win and advance to the championship game for the second straight year.
Game Two: Franklin 1 - Transylvania 0
Both starting pitchers were on their games from the first pitch of the day, as Franklin's Kayla Selzer and Transylvania's Renee Morton kept both offenses in check over the first three innings. Both teams would string together two singles in the fourth, but were unable to get a runner across as the game remained scoreless at the half-way point.
The game remained scoreless until the fifth inning, when the Grizzlies cashed in for the ice-breaker. With one out and no one on, Shelby Mager and Alexis Tarver notched back-to-back doubles, with Tarver's scoring Mager for the only run of the game.
The Pioneers looked to snatch momentum back in the bottom of the sixth when Brittany Mumford led off the inning with a double. But the Pioneer leadoff header would advance no farther as Selzer retired the next three batters to send the game to the seventh.
Transylvania put the tying run in scoring position with a one-out double in the seventh. But the host's rally would fall just short as Selzer produced a pop out and a game-ending ground out to trigger a dog pile in the circle.
Selzer (11-6) recorded her second complete game shutout of the Pioneers this year, scattering four hits, walking one and striking out two. After the championship game, Sezler was named to the all-tournament team along with Olivia Paszek, Alexis Tarver, Danielle Wyse and Tournament MVP, Monica Collins.
Franklin will wait to find out where they're going for the NCAA Regionals but they won't have to wait long. The selection show takes place on Monday (Apr. 7) afternoon and will be broadcast on NCAA.com. Fans on campus can come join the Grizzlies in the Branigin Room for a viewing party.