ALLENDALE, MI (WFIE) - University of Southern Indiana Softball had No. 7 Grand Valley State University up against the ropes in the last half of the fifth inning of Saturday’s NCAA II Midwest Region #1 Tournament game. The No. 4-seeded Screaming Eagles had the bases loaded with one out, trailing the top-seeded Lakers, 2-1.
A strikeout and a miraculous over-the-shoulder catch by GVSU shortstop Shannon Flaherty ended the threat and swung the momentum pendulum back into the Laker’s favor.
USI (35-21) looked as if it would recapture momentum with a one-two-three inning in the sixth, but Grand Valley used a two-out rally to score four runs and essentially end the Eagles’ hopes of a second straight national title.
Grand Valley (47-8) went onto an 8-1 win in the opening game, advancing to the NCAA II Midwest Super Regional for the first time since 2016 and avoiding an “if necessary game” that may have favored the Eagles, who started hitting one of the toughest pitchers in the nation to hit.
USI, which fell behind 2-0 as the Lakers scored in both the third and fourth frames, roared back with a run in the home half of the fourth inning to cut the deficit in half. A one-out double by junior outfielder Allison Schubert (Nicholasville, Kentucky) followed by a single by sophomore first baseman Haley Shouse (Borden, Indiana) put runners at the corners with one out.
Two batters later, junior shortstop Taylor Ricketts (Georgetown, Kentucky) hit an RBI-double to leftfield to put USI on the scoreboard.
Missed opportunities, however, plagued the Eagles late in the contest. USI stranded runners at first and second in the third inning, left runners at second and third in the fourth, left the bases loaded in the fifth, and stranded a runner at second base in the sixth.
In total, the Eagles left nine runners on base despite getting eight hits off senior All-American and 2019 Midwest Region Pitcher of the Year Allison Lipovsky, who held USI to just one hit in Friday’s contest.
Grand Valley State, on the other hand, used a two-out rally in the third inning to score the first run and a lead-off home run in the fourth to take the 2-0 lead. The Lakers scored four runs, all with two outs, in the sixth inning and tacked on two more in the seventh.
Junior pitcher Jennifer Leonhardt (Louisville, Kentucky) took the loss after giving up five runs, three earned, off seven hits in five-and-two-thirds innings of work. Leonhardt (21-9) struck out five of the first nine batters she faced, but after tossing more than 11 innings of shutout softball on Saturday, simply ran out of gas late in the contest. She finishes the year as USI’s all-time leader in strikeouts (705), wins (76) and is tied for first in complete-game shutouts (33) after tying the single-season school record with 13 in 2019.
With the loss, USI says goodbye to its four seniors—catcher Lindsey Barr (Owensboro, Kentucky), outfielder/pitcher Caitlyn Bradley (Pittsboro, Kentucky), second baseman Claire Johnson (Pittsboro, Indiana) and pitcher Haylee Smith (Florence, Kentucky). The quartet became the second senior class in program history to advance to four NCAA II Tournaments and recorded 157 wins, four shy of the 2018 senior class for the most in program history.