Softball seniors Kelly, Conner spark offense in game two of Barton home farewell

Five Barton seniors and a junior who will be graduating early were honored on Sunday before the final home games of their careers. They included (l-r): Kelsie Conner, Ashley Burkett, Megan Kelly, Carolina Merrill, Sydney Speight and Taylor Bowden. | Photo by Benny Benton
Five Barton seniors and a junior who will be graduating early were honored on Sunday before the final home games of their careers. They included (l-r): Kelsie Conner, Ashley Burkett, Megan Kelly, Carolina Merrill, Sydney Speight and Taylor Bowden. | Photo by Benny Benton

by Benny Benton

WILSON, N.C.Megan Kelly and Kelsie Conner provided Barton College with a happy ending to their Senior Day on Sunday, combining for six hits and five runs in the softball team's 8-0 Game 2 victory over visiting Lees-McRae at Jeffries Field.

Kelly produced a 4-for-4 day at the plate that included an RBI double, RBI triple and two singles. She also scored two runs, including the final one in the contest, which was shortened to six innings by the eight-run rule. Conner drove in Kelly with the final run, and also added a two-run double in a six-run fourth inning for the Lady Bulldogs.

Those performances backed a two-hit pitching shutout by sophomore Hannah Jones, who retired 15 straight batters between a first-inning double by Lees-McRae's Noel Cassidy and a sixth-inning infield single by Caitlyn Ray.

The victory in the nightcap erased some of the sting from a disappointing start to Senior Day, when Lees-McRae pitcher Kara Cunningham locked down Barton with a dominant three-hit shutout that included nine strikeouts.

The split left Barton at 23-24 overall and 10-10 in league play, while the Bobcats moved to 14-28 overall and 6-12 in the conference.

Game 2: Barton 8, Lees-McRae 0 (6 inn.)

The Lady Bulldogs grabbed what would ultimately prove to be the game-winning run just three batters into their first at-bat.

Sierra Hearp doubled into the gap in left-center, and Kelly followed with an RBI triple into the left field corner. The triple was Kelly's sixth of the season, which took over the conference lead in the category and set a new Barton single-season record.

Lees-McRae starter Gabrielle Moyer (3-3) was lifted after the hit in favor of reliever Taylor Billings, who allowed Barton just one more hit through the third inning. However, Billings was the victim of two consecutive errors, one she committed herself, that set up a big fourth inning for the Lady Bulldogs.

RBI singles by Jones and Samantha Santmyers followed the two miscues, and a groundout by Hearp with the bases loaded forced in a third run. Kelly followed with an RBI double down the left field line to drive in another run, and Conner capped the six-run inning with a two-run double to left-center. All six of the runs charged to Billings were unearned.

Barton moved a runner to third base in the fifth inning but could not get her home to end the game. However, in the sixth, Kelly, who needed a home run at that point to hit for the cycle, instead produced a clutch two-out single to center, stole second, and scored the game-ending run on a single to left-center by Conner.

Jones (11-8) did not walk a batter or strike out one in her two-hit pitching gem, which was produced on just 57 pitches. The complete game was her 14th of the year, and the shutout was her fourth, matching Barton's single-season record.

Game 1: Lees-McRae 6, Barton 0

Getting the start for BC on Senior Day, Carolina Merrill (0-6) held Lees-McRae scoreless through two innings, holding the Bobcats to just one hit.

However, Lees-McRae opening things up in the third with a five-run inning that included a double to right by Cunningham and a two-run triple down the right field line by Kirsten Doss. The Bobcats tacked on another run off reliever Hearp in the fifth on three hits.

One run would have been plenty in the game for Cunningham, who only allowed a single to Hearp in the first and two singles to Conner, one leading off the second inning and the other leading off the seventh. Cunningham (7-9) walked three and matched a season-high with the nine strikeouts in her first shutout of the year.

The sophomore recently threw another three-hit complete-game, that one coming in a 2-1 loss to nationally-ranked No. 9 Pfeiffer University.

Cunningham also helped herself with two hits at the plate. Cassidy, Doss and Emily Merriam added two hits each in the nine-hit attack.

The two contests concluded Barton's home schedule for the year. The Lady Bulldogs will wrap up the 2017 regular-season with a pair of games at rival University of Mount Olive on Tuesday, April 18, beginning at 4 p.m.

Although it has not yet officially clinched a spot in the upcoming Conference Carolinas Tournament, Barton is in a solid position to make it to the post-season event April 28-30 in Burlington, N.C. The top eight teams in the regular-season advance to the tournament, and BC is currently tied with Erskine College for sixth.