With their backs against the wall and season on the line, the top-ranked UAH Chargers swept West Alabama in the South Region finals on Saturday. The Chargers beat the Tigers 6-3 in the first game, then, rolled in the finale 8-0 in five innings. The win propelled UAH to their fourth World Series appearance and second in the last three years. After a fantastic and improbable postseason run, West Alabama's season ended at 38-19.
The Chargers will face South Central region champion Midwestern State University in the round on Thursday night at the Moyer Complex in Salem, Va. Game time is scheduled for 7:30 EST. The 5th-ranked Mustangs also rebounded from a Game One loss to West Texas A&M to sweep the last two games on Saturday.
Not only was it hot on Saturday, but with the score tied at 1-1 after four innings, Chargers fans were sweating bullets. UAH scored in the top of the first inning on a sacrifice fly by Kathryn Whitlock. Kelli Long, who led off by being hit by a pitch, scored on the play giving UAH a 1-0 lead.
West Alabama tied the score in the third inning when No. 9 hitter Angela Smith smashed a solo home run over the left field fence.
The Chargers reclaimed the lead in the fifth inning, scoring three times to take a 4-1 lead. The Tigers answered with two runs in the bottom of the inning to trim the lead to 4-3. However, Long drilled a 2-run homer over the scoreboard in left-center to get the two runs back and give UAH a 6-3 lead.
UWA tried to rally in the seventh inning, putting runners in scoring position with no outs. The Tigers had three shots at it but Whitney Toler, who came in to relieve starter Whitney Gilbert, struck out the next two batters looking and the third grounded out to end the game.
Gilbert improved to 15-2 with the win, while Toler picked up her first save of the season. Gilbert pitched six innings, allowed two earned runs on seven hits. She had five strikeouts and walked five. Toler allowed a hit and retired a pair by strikeout.
Stephanie Needham was 3-for-4 with an RBI. Long and Mary Kelley each had two hits. Long's homer was her seventh and she plated a pair of runs. Whitlock also had two RBI for the Chargers.
With UWA ace Kristen Skinner done for the day, midnight was coming quickly as UAH batters teed off on Tiger pitching. Powered by a grand slam by Needham, the Chargers hung six runs on the board in the second inning. From there, the Tigers had no answer as Toler (18-2) tossed a 2-hit shutout.
Long had three hits in four trips, including a double, an RBI and her 39th stolen base of the season. She scored twice, including the game-clincher in the fifth inning off of an RBI single by Krystal Johnson. Needham, Kelley and Johnson all had two hits in the Chargers' 10-hit assault. Needham hit her seventh home run and drove in four runs. Johnson had two RBI and Kelley one.