Special To The Times
The Cullman Times
ST. GEORGE, UTAH —
Wallace State’s Katie Gentle knew she put a good swing on Santa Fe (Fla.) College ace Karla Claudio. She wasn't sure, however, if it was belted hard enough to be an eventual game-winner.
Wallace State (51-11) is glad it was.
Gentle’s two-run shot in the sixth inning was all pitcher BreeAnna Blevins needed as the eighth-seeded Lady Lions prevailed 2-1 over Santa Fe in their opening-round game Wednesday afternoon at the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) Division I national championship.
“She (Claudio) is a good pitcher and has a lot of movement on her pitchers,” said Gentle, who has 15 homers this season. “She proved it because we obviously didn’t have many hits. I was glad I stepped up at the right time. I couldn’t have done it without Victoria getting on before me. I thought the ball was over the center fielder’s head, but I didn’t know it would get out. I’ll take it.”
Gentle’s homer and the effective work from Blevins catapulted Wallace State into a winner’s bracket game Thursday vs. top-seeded Butler (Kan.) Community College beginning at 6 p.m.
The Lions mustered only four base runners in the first five innings. In the sixth, shortstop Victoria Frith drew a one-out walk before Gentle drilled her homer to straight away center.
“We told the team late in the game to take a strike,” said Wallace State coach Jayne Clem, who has the program at the NJCAA tournament for the eighth time. “We needed to get their pitcher deep in the count in order to get base runners. Victoria (Frith) got on and Katie did what she is supposed to do. “I think our lack of hits was a case of first-game jitters. I think we’ll relax now and play our kind of ball. We know what we’ve got to do.”
Blevins (25-5) showed no nerves on the mound, striking out eight in her complete-game effort. She scattered six hits and was at her toughest with runners on.
Santa Fe scored its lone run on a two-out RBI single by Cassidy Masso in the fifth.
The Saints threatened again in the top of the seventh. Erin Marsh coaxed a leadoff walk and Galis Lazado followed with a single before Blevins bore down to secure the win. Blevins induced a double play ball off the bat of Claudio and got Masso to pop up to second to end the game.
“BreeAnna was awesome,” Clem said. We decided early that their pitcher was not going to beat us with the bat, and BreeAnna did a great job pitching to her the entire game. We couldn’t have asked of anything more from her.”
Santa Fe’s Vargas allowed two runs on two hits in six innings, striking out five and walking four.
Madeline Lee accounted for Wallace State’s other hit.
Wallace State is playing in its second straight NJCAA national tournament and sixth in seven seasons. The Lady Lions have finished no worse than third during their last four trips to Utah. They were the 2008 national champ, finished runner-up in 2009 and 2010 and third last season.