by Benny Benton
BURLINGTON, N.C. – For the third straight season, the Barton College softball team opened the Conference Carolinas Tournament with a 3-2 loss to Limestone College on a run scored in the bottom of the seventh.
This year, Limestone (42-9) won it on a two-out RBI single through the left side by Caroline Hill, who was named the league's player of the year on Thursday. The hit was the third of the inning for the second-seeded Saints off Barton sophomore Hannah Jones (12-9), who gave up just seven in the contest while tossing her 16th complete game of the year.
Barton had tied the game in the top of the frame on clutch two-out hits from seniors Megan Kelly and Kelsie Conner. After Jones reached on a one-out fielding error, she moved to second on Ashley Burkett's groundout and scored on Kelly's double down the left field line. Conner followed with a single to right to drive in Kelly and tie the contest.
But Hill, who also drove in Limestone's first run of the game in the first inning on a sacrifice fly, provided the walk-off win for the Saints in the bottom of the seventh.
The loss sent the Lady Bulldogs into a loser's bracket matchup against No. 4 seed King, a game Barton lost 7-3 to see its season come to an end at 24-27.
Barton scored all three of its runs, two of them unearned, in the sixth inning after falling behind 7-0. The Lady Bulldogs managed seven hits off King pitcher Emma Hughes (18-5) but could not string them together to create runs.
King (32-18) took the lead in the second inning on a wild pitch by Barton reliever Sierra Hearp (7-5), who was named BC's lone all-conference selection on Thursday. It was the only run allowed by Hearp in her 1 1/3 innings of work, but the Lady Bulldogs trailed the rest of the way.
The Tornado opened up a cushion with a three-run third inning, then added two more runs in the fourth to pull away from the Lady Bulldogs.
Kelly went 2-for-4 at the plate in her final game for Barton, and fellow senior Taylor Bowden had the team's lone RBI.
Barton finished its first season under head coach Junior Bailey with 11 league wins, matching a program high in the NCAA Division II era.