by Benny Benton
BELMONT, N.C. – Barton College freshman Sierra Hearp drove in three runs at the plate and tossed a complete-game pitching victory to lead the Lady Bulldogs past Belmont Abbey College, 6-4, in the first game of a Conference Carolinas doubleheader Tuesday at Crusader Field.
The Lady Bulldogs were one strike away from a sweep, but the Crusaders produced a two-out rally in the seventh by scoring four runs, the final three on a walk-off home run, to take the nightcap, 6-3.
The split left Barton with a mark of 12-11 overall and 1-1 in league play, while Belmont Abbey moved to 3-15-2 overall and 1-3 in conference action.
Game 1: Barton 6, Belmont Abbey 4
The Lady Bulldogs took a 2-0 lead from the outset of game one, as Megan Kelly drew a four-pitch walk and Hearp drilled a 2-1 offering from BAC starter Shannan Mas (1-7) over the fence in right-center for her second home run of the year.
Belmont Abbey got one of those runs back in the bottom of the inning on a walk, a stolen base, a sacrifice bunt and a passed ball. But Barton responded with two more runs in the second frame on a hit batsman, a single by Taylor Bowden, an RBI single by Kelly and a Belmont Abbey throwing error in right field.
The Crusaders took advantage of a BC fielding error and a single to open the third inning, scoring two runs on a wild pitch and a Melissa Neyhouse double to trim the deficit to one at 4-3.
However, the Lady Bulldogs collected two runs of their own in similar fashion in the sixth to increase the lead to 6-3. Taylor Martin led off the frame with a single and Makayla Meeks reached base on a throwing error at third base, setting up an RBI bunt single by Bowden and an RBI double down the left field line by Hearp.
Belmont Abbey scored one run in the bottom of the seventh on a walk, a groundout and an RBI single. That brought the potential tying run to the plate with two outs, but Hearp got a groundout to second base to end the game.
Hearp scattered seven hits and three walks while striking out three in the complete-game effort. With the victory, the Roanoke Rapids, N.C., resident improved to 6-1 on the season. She also had three of Barton's 10 hits. Bowden added two hits and an RBI, and Taylor Martin also went 2-for-4 at the plate.
Game 2: Belmont Abbey 6, Barton 3
The Lady Bulldogs took a 3-2 lead into the bottom of the seventh, and pitcher Hannah Jones (4-3) quickly retired the first two batters of the frame. She was one strike from a victory after working a 2-2 count to Anna Mixa, but hit her with the next pitch. Neyhouse followed with a double to left, scoring Mixa all the way from first with the game-tying run.
Dani Marietta then singled to center, and Katherine Starnes followed by blasting a 1-1 offering from Jones over the fence in center field for the three-run game-winning home run.
Barton had taken a 2-1 lead in the third inning on an RBI double by Hearp that scored Sydney Speight, who had singled and stolen second base.
The Lady Bulldogs extended their lead to 3-1 in the fifth when Jones drew a bases-loaded walk from BAC pitcher Amelia Saldivar (1-2), forcing in Speight, who had reached on an error and advanced on singles by Kelly and Hearp.
The Crusaders pulled back to within one at 3-2 in the sixth on a single by Starnes and an RBI double by Claire Doyle, setting up the last-inning drama.
Belmont Abbey produced seven hits off Jones, including two each from Neyhouse, Marietta and Starnes. The Crusaders also drew five walks and the critical hit batsman while striking out once.
Saldivar gave up 10 hits to Barton in the victory, including two each to Kelly, Hearp, Martin and Speight. Hearp drove in two runs in the game, giving her five for the doubleheader.
Barton will play its first home game against a league opponent on Wednesday, and will do so against nationally-ranked No. 18 Pfeiffer University. The Falcons won the league tournament last year and advanced to the NCAA Division II Southeast Regional finals.
Pfeiffer has not played a conference game this season, but is 18-2 overall and has outscored opponents 141 to 54 so far this year. First pitch for game one is slated for 2 p.m. at Jeffries Field.