UNA captures GSC Championship

UNA captures GSC Championship

. - A record 18-run fourth inning highlighted North Alabama's performance in the 2016 Gulf South Conference Softball Championship Game on Sunday as UNA won its first title since 1987 with a 19-9 victory over Valdosta State. After entering the frame trailing 5-1, the Lions sent 22 batters to the plate, setting a new conference record for runs in an inning.

The second straight mercy-rule win over the No. 21 Blazers gave UNA its first GSC championship since winning back-to-back titles in 1986 and 1987 during the first two seasons of fast-pitch softball in the league. The Lions (49-5) finished with 16 hits, including a 4-for-4, five-RBI showing by tournament MVP Harlie Barkley.

UNA had only three hits heading into the fourth inning. Valdosta State scored three runs in the bottom of the first inning and two runs in the third to take the early lead. Barkley's solo home run in the second represented the only run for UNA before the flood gates opened.

Barkley, who batted three times in the inning, led off the frame with a single. After consecutive walks loaded the bases with no outs, pinch-hitter Shelby Woodard was hit by a pitch to make the score 5-2. Carmen Whitfield then cut the lead to 5-4 with a two-run double.

With runners at second and third and still no outs, Bailey Nelson tied the game with an RBI-single to left field to chase VSU starter Caitlyn Calhoun from the circle. VSU's Huntyre Elling came on in relief. The runs, however, would continue to come for North Alabama.

After a two-run double by Shields gave UNA its first lead of the game, the Blazers recorded the first out of the inning. An RBI-single by Barkley then put runners at first and second for Anna Gayle Norris, who drilled a 1-1 pitch to right field for a three-run home run.

The Lions were not done yet. After a walk and two hits loaded the bases again, Nelson's base-on ball scored a runner from third and gave UNA a 12-5 lead. Brooklynn Clark and Shields each drove in two more runs before Barkley hit a three-run homer to left field and make the score 19-5.

Valdosta State was able to push four runs across in the bottom of the fourth inning, but could get no closer.

Hillary Carpenter (23-3) got the pitching win. She struck out three and scattered seven hits in four innings of work. Only three of the Blazers' nine runs were earned.

At the plate, Shields finished 3-for-5 with four RBI. Clark, who became the school's all-time single-season hit leader with 87, was 2-for-4, while Norris and Whitfield also added two hits each. Eight different players
recorded at least one hit for the Lions. The 19 runs is the most ever scored by UNA in a post-season game, while the combined 28 runs also sets a new single-game record for the GSC tourney.

Joining Barkley on the All-Tournament team from UNA were Clark, Shields and Raven Cole.

With the win, UNA earns the automatic berth in the upcoming NCAA regional tournament. The Lions are in solid position to host one of the two four-team regionals next weekend. An NCAA online selection show is set for
9 a.m.

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