by Benny Benton
MOUNT OLIVE, N.C. – The Barton College softball team was dealt two heartbreaking losses by rival University of Mount Olive Wednesday evening, 3-1 and 4-3, in the final Conference Carolinas games of the regular season for both teams.
Mount Olive (22-26, 9-11) scored three unearned runs on a bases-clearing double with two outs in the fourth inning of game one to claim that contest, and scored two runs with two outs in the bottom of the seventh of game two to rally for that victory.
The losses prevented Barton (19-27, 5-15) from clinching a spot in next week's Conference Carolinas Softball Championship. The Bulldogs must now await the outcome of Saturday's matchup between North Greenville University and Southern Wesleyan University. If NGU (26-12, 13-5) wins at least one of the two games against SWU (8-35, 3-15), then Barton will slip into the final tournament slot as the No. 8 seed.
Game 1 – Mount Olive 3, Barton 1
The Trojans scored all their runs on one big two-out hit in an inning extended by an error.
A leadoff single, an error on a bunt attempt back to the circle and another one-out single loaded the bases in the fourth. One runner was forced out at the plate for the second out of the frame, but Alexis Oliver followed with a bases-clearing double into the gap in right-center off BC starter Hannah Jones (9-10), giving UMO the 3-0 advantage.
Mount Olive pitcher Mallory Ratcliff (11-9) held the Lady Bulldogs hitless until Hayley Grizzle's two-out single through the left side in the top of the fourth. She took a three-hit shutout into the seventh, when Jordan Blake and Jessica Onega produced back-to-back doubles to open the inning and get Barton on the board.
However, Ratcliff retired the next three batters in order to prevent a comeback and finish off the complete-game win. She walked one and struck out three.
Jones gave up four hits and the three unearned runs over four innings for Barton in suffering the loss. She walked one and struck out two. Teagan Crosby worked two scoreless innings of relief, giving up just one hit.
Game 2 – Mount Olive 4, Barton 3
Mount Olive opened the scoring in game two, collecting a run in the second inning on a leadoff double by Anna Ingram, a wild pitch and an RBI groundout by Oliver.
Barton quickly responded in the top of the third, as Jones produced a leadoff single and Blake followed with a blast over the fence in left-center for her third home run of the season, giving the Lady Bulldogs a 2-1 advantage.
Two batters later, Sierra Hearp reached base on an errant throw from short, and advanced all the way to third base when the throw into second base from the right fielder was also offline. Grizzle followed with a sacrifice fly to left field, driving in Hearp to increase BC's lead to 3-1.
Barton starter Makayla Meeks gave up just two hits over the first five innings, the double to Ingram in the second and a two-out triple in the third to Kayla Allen.
Allen reached base again on a single through the left side to lead off the sixth, advanced to second on a passed ball, moved to third on a groundout and scored on a single to center by Heather Childress, cutting the BC lead to 3-2.
Mount Olive threatened for more when Eileen Barrera singled down the left field line with two outs, but left fielder Taylor Martin gunned down Childress at third to end the inning.
Consecutive one-out singles in the top of the seventh by Jones and Blake gave Barton a chance for more runs, but Mount Olive pitcher Emily Chaisson (6-7) got an inning-ending strikeout to strand both runners in scoring position.
Blake took over pitching duties for Meeks in the bottom of the seventh and quickly collected the first out of the inning. Mount Olive's Alexis Hobson reached on an infield single to short, but Blake used a liner to short to gain the second out of the frame.
Down to their last out, UMO pitch-hit Alyssa Pickle, and the sophomore came through with a double to the fence in center, scoring Hobson all the way from first base for the game-tying run. Two pitches later, Allen ended the game in walk-off fashion by driving an offering from Blake (1-2) to center, scoring pinch-runner Mikayla Koch with the game-winning run.
Mount Olive collected eight total hits in the contest off Meeks and Blake, while Barton produced 10 off Chaisson. Jones and Blake accounted for six of those 10 BC hits.
Barton will conclude its regular-season with two non-conference home doubleheaders, Saturday against UNC Pembroke and Sunday against St. Andrews University. Barton's lone senior, Brittany Jacobs, will be honored in a ceremony before Saturday's 12 p.m. first game against UNCP. Sunday's games against St. Andrews will serve as a benefit game for Gigi's Playhouse.