ORMOND BEACH, Fla. - In what was a bizarre and interesting game Friday morning at the Ormond Beach Sports Complex, Savannah State eliminated North Carolina A&T from the 2012 MEAC Softball Tournament with a 7-4 win.
The Aggies end their season at 16-35, but it didn't end without a fight. The Aggies trailed 3-0 early thanks in part to a two-run home run from Madison Hedderly. Eventually, the Tigers lead would increase to 4-0 on an RBI single to center field by India Morgan.
Hedderly, the Tigers starting pitcher, had the Aggie batters perplexed over first three innings. Sophomore catcher Sabrina Edmonds was the first to reveal Hedderly's vulnerabilities by hitting a solo home run to left-center field. The Tigers answered by scoring another run in the fifth off of an RBI single by Katherine Stewart to give SSU a 5-1 lead.
Then the fun started.
A&T continued to give Hedderly problems in the home half of the fifth. Sophomore shortstop Hope Fletcher opened the inning with an infield single and advanced to second on a Hedderly wild pitch. Dominique Smith put runners on first and third with a bunt single, and moved into scoring position by stealing second.
Tranea Jones then hit a sharp groundball that ricocheted off of Hedderly to shortstop Shamyr Adams. Adams quickly scooped up the rebound and caught Fletcher in a rundown between third base and home plate. Fletcher slid safely back to third base, but the drama wasn't over. SSU third baseman Amber Hallman and second baseman Morgan quickly turned their attention to Smith who was trapped between second and third.
Hallman's throw to second to put out Smith bounced off Smith's backside, which allowed Smith to slide into second safely, while Fletcher scored from third to cut SSU's lead to 5-2.
Jernigan, the Aggies lone first-team All-MEAC selection, stepped to the plate representing the game's tying run. Jernigan was making her first start in three tournament games, and was playing in just her second game in 25 days. Yet, the slugger almost turned into an instant hero as she lifted a long fly ball to left field. In what would have been a SportsCenter moment had the cameras been rolling, SSU left fielder Jessica Weismerskirk made what has to be the play of the tournament when she went back to the fence, leaped and snagged Jernigan's fly ball from the sky before it could land over the fence.
Smith moved to third on the play, but as if Weismerskirk's phenomenal play wasn't enough, SSU appealed Smith's advancement by throwing the ball to second. The umpires met and decided Smith didn't properly tag, and she was called out to the displeasure of A&T head coach Mamie Jones.
Weismerskirk's play was huge. Not only did she prevent Jernigan from tying the game, but the double play gave the Aggies two outs with one on, instead two on with one out. Edmonds flew out to left to end an exciting, controversial inning.
The disputes didn't end there, however. With two outs in the bottom of the sixth, Detavia Kenan reached first on an infield single and moved to second on an errant throw by Adams at shortstop. Sophomore left fielder Tiffany Macklin followed by singling to left field. Again, Weismerskirk came up big for the Tigers.
She lofted a throw to home plate in an attempt to throw out Kenan. It appeared Kenan slid underneath the tag of catcher Chelsea Parrish, but home plate umpire David Jefferson called Kenan out to end the inning.
"I'm doing fine," said Jones. "There were a lot of things we could have done to win this ballgame. You can't put it all on this or that. We made too many errors in key moments, and the young lady in left field made a remarkable catch. I take my hat off to her."
The Tigers added two more runs in the seventh to take a 7-2 lead as Amber Hallman hit a solo homer and Stewart scored on a Tiffany Davies RBI single.
Fletcher led the Aggies comeback attempt in the seventh inning by leading off with a solo home run to right field. It was the junior's first career home run. After striking out Smith, Hedderly gave up a single to Jones. Jernigan followed by hitting a double play ball to third, but Hallman's errant throw allowed Jones to reach third and Jernigan to reach first.
Edmonds made a credible attempt at hitting her second home run of the game by lifting a high fly ball to center field. Savannah State center fielder Destiny Webster made the Tigers' fifth error of the game by dropping the fly ball in deep center field. With Jones scoring, the Aggies found themselves with tying run at the plate in Raven Smith. But Raven Smith popped out on the first pitch she saw from Hedderly. Zabresha Blakeney continued to make trouble for SSU as she singled to load the bases for Kenan. Kenan took the first pitch she saw and lifted it into left field. Weismerskirk fittingly settled under the final out of the game.
Savannah State (26-23) advances, while the Aggies will head home Saturday morning. Fletcher led the Aggies by going 3-for-4 with two runs scored and an RBI. Jones had three hits and Macklin added two more hits for the Aggies.
"It was an interesting season," said Jones. "We had some adversity this year, but the ladies fought hard all season long and they certainly fought hard today. We're looking forward to having a little more depth along with having everyone coming back next season."