Brenau University’s Golden Tigers softball team advanced to the next stage of the NAIA Softball National Championship with a 2-0, eight-inning win over top-ranked Concordia University on Saturday, May 19, in Gulf Shores, Ala. The No. 16 Tigers now face conference rival Auburn University-Montgomery, ranked 18th in the regular season-ending coaches’ poll, at 11 a.m. Monday, the first day of double-elimination bracket play.
Concordia, located in Irvine, Calif., had a 54-3 record since the 2010 season, but Golden Tigers pitcher Anna Maness (21-9) held the Eagles scoreless, scattering five hits in eight innings of work – he second consecutive shutout in the tournament. She struck out six and walked only one.
The win-or-go-home game in the first round of playoff matchups became an extra-inning pitching duel pitted Maness against Concordia pitching ace to beat Katie Cotta, handing Cotta her first 2012 loss. The 20-game winner struck out 11 Brenau batters.
Brenau now moves into the eight-team double-elimination play May 21 – 23 in the 32nd annual national championship tournament for the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics.
The Tigers’ batting cracked the Cotta code in the final frame Saturday. Sally Duggan led Brenau at the plate, finishing the day 2 for 3, and Taylor Kelly drove in the go-ahead runs in the eighth for the Golden Tigers. Lana Lazar, Katie Bolin and Brooke Bryant also had hits for Brenau.
After Concordia failed to score in the bottom of the seventh with runners at the corners and one out, Brenau took advantage in the top of the eighth. With two outs and a runner at first, Duggan was hit by a pitch to make it first and second with two outs. Then, Kelly broke open the game with a two-run double to deep left-center.
Brenau, the leading defense in the nation, so far has given up only one run in the championship tournament. On Friday, May 18, Maness pitched a three-hit shutout with 11 strikeouts and no walks to lead the Brenau team to an 8-0 victory over Talladega College. The Tigers opened play in the tournament on May 17 with a 7-1 victory over against the No.25 Swedes of Bethany College of Lindsborg, Kan.
With a 39-14 overall record, the Brenau team received an at-large bid to participate as one of the final 32 teams for the double elimination national championship tournament, which runs through May 23. Although the pre-season No.5-ranked Tigers suffered some late-season losses, the team still has the No. 1-ranked defense in the country with a .977 fielding percentage. The Tigers’ pitching staff, ranked No. 8 in the country, boasts a 1.41 ERA.
Maness, a junior from Seagrove, N.C., was Southern States Athletic Conference Divisional Pitcher of the Year and a First Team All-Conference selection. Also still on the roster are two powers offensively for the Tigers – 2011 NAIA First Team All Americans Tiffany Schandera, a junior from Columbus, Ga., at third base, and pitcher Jenny Shepherd, a sophomore from Martinez, Ga.
This is the second appearance for the Golden Tigers in the national championship tournament. The team won the SSAC conference championship in 2009 and earned a berth to national tournament play in Decatur, Ala., but was eliminated in its third game by No.5-ranked William Carey. It finished the season ranked 12th nationally.
The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics championship tournament will be televised at https://www.nmnathletics.com//subs/Landing.dbml?&&DB_OEM_ID=27900&db_oem_id=27900, a pay-per-view video stream.