By Craig Hull
Special to The Globe
Sarah Williams got all the fuel she needed as an observer Friday afternoon.
Knowing a Lincoln doubleheader sweep would be fatal to the Missouri Southern softball season, the 5-foot-8 freshman right-hander was more than motivated while tossing a six-hit shutout.
Williams’ gem allowed the Lions to salvage a split — Lincoln claimed a 4-3 victory in 8 innings in the opener before Southern earned a 5-0 game two victory — in a MIAA doubleheader at Lea Kungle Field.
The Wentzville, Mo., product struck out five, walked two and threw 59 strikes in 97 pitches during seven innings of work to improve to 7-6 on the season.
Starr McLeod, a senior right-hander from Girard, Kan., took the loss, allowing all five Southern runs in just over four innings of work.
“I was focused on limiting the walks; I didn’t want to give them any free ones,” Williams said. “I wanted to work ahead in the count. I had a couple of pitches that we not working as well, but I was able to throw the curve for strikes to get ahead and the changeup kept them off balance.”
She was tested in the top of the sixth as Lincoln sent its 3-4-5 batters to the plate. Kristina Hein singled to right, Erin Sommerer walked and Brianna Akers singled to left to load the bases with no outs.
Williams calmly worked out of the jam getting Clair Lorenz to ground into a 5-2 fielder’s choice, struck out Shantae Duren on a 1-2 changeup and then got McLeod to ground out to third to kill the threat.
“I have all the confidence in the world in my defense, I know they’ve got my back,” Williams said.
Added Southern coach Bill Gray, “That’s Sarah, she’s tough as nails. She fights, as long as she’s not fighting with herself. Her biggest opponent is herself. She will go out there and even when things are going good, but not good enough for her, sometimes she will take herself out of it.”
Southern (23-23 overall, 10-14 MIAA) gave Williams the lead in the first when Alana Hester singled, advanced to second on an error, moved to third on a Brooke Swadley sacrifice and scored on Shelby Romines sacrifice fly to center.
Four straight hits to start the fifth — singles by Dawn Grass, Haley Pypes, Brooklyn Farrell and a double by Michala Wood — led to four runs. Farrell’s single was good for an RBI, Wood drove in a run with her extra base hit and Chloe Brown grounded out for an RBI before Wood scored on a wild pitch to open a 5-0 advantage.
As satisfying as the second-game victory was for Southern, the loss in the opener was just as disappointing for Gray.
“It’s been this way all year, either we win the first one and don’t take care of business in the second game, or get beat in game one, then play hard in game two and get the win,” Gray said. “It was our first loss in extra innings all year and it was something we hung our hat on all season.”
Lincoln took a 2-0 lead on wild pitch and a throwing error in the second.
Southern got to Blue Tigers pitcher Clair Lorenz in fifth when Williams doubled to left and scored on Farrell’s single to center for a 2-1 game.
Lincoln got one back in the top of the sixth when three walks loaded the bases leading to Sam Kircher’s RBI single.
Trailing 3-1, Southern’s Chloe Brown, a junior left fielder who had five extra base hits (all doubles) this season jacked a solo home run to lead off the sixth. Alana Hester, using her speed, generated the tying run after getting hit by a pitch, advanced all the way to third on a sacrifice by Swadley and then scored on Romine’s sacrifice bunt.
Kircher’s sacrifice fly to left scored the game winner for Lincoln (14-17-1, 6-12 MIAA) in the top of the eighth while Southern got the tying run to second with two outs in bottom of the inning but failed to convert.
The Lions, still in the race for the MIAA postseason, will host Central Missouri next Friday in a 4 p.m. doubleheader before closing the regular season with a home doubleheader Saturday with Southwest Baptist.