Lions Defeat St. Thomas To Open NAIA Tournament

via Vanguard Athletics

KLAMATH FALLS, Ore. – Noni Chaves posted three hits and drove in three runs, helping Vanguard topple St. Thomas in its opening game of the NAIA Softball Tournament on Monday at Stilwell Stadium.

The second-seeded Lions pounded out 14 hits, including six in a decisive six-run third inning, that led to an 8-5 victory over the No. 3 seed Bobcats. Four additional Lions joined Chaves in the multi-hit column with Amarah FarleyKamryn WalkerAdriana Portillo and Marissa Gurrola collecting two each.

VU’s first five hitters batted a combined .611 (11-for-18) with six runs scored to support starting pitcher Brianna Williams, who improved to 21-5 on the season with a complete game effort.

Williams allowed 10 hits and four earned runs, while walking just one and striking out five in a 109-pitch effort.

Gabriella Gilbert led the Florida-based St. Thomas with a double and home run, finishing 3-for-4 on the afternoon.

What Happened?

Williams struck out the side to open the game against the Bobcats, while counterpart Anna Toon retired the Lions in order in the home half of the first.

Both pitchers matched zeroes in the second, although each team had a runner in scoring position. Williams got Destiny Falquez to ground out with Gilbert on third and two outs. The Lions got back-to-back singles from Portillo and Gurrola, but Toon escaped the jam on two straight pop outs and a strike out.

St. Thomas got on the board with a pair of runs in the third. Natalie Kopicova hit a ground-rule double to left that scored Alahnis Berrios, who had led off with a bunt single. The Bobcats got Mya Achenbach to cross home plate as the VU third baseman misplayed a grounder from Bianca Palacios.

However, facing runners on second and third with one out, Williams did not allow any further damage as she retired Toon and Gilbert.

The Lions attacked in the third, aided by a pair of St. Thomas errors. Aeri Corral and Farley opened with consecutive singles, and a throwing error by the Bobcat catcher on Farley’s hit put runners on the corners.

Toon airmailed a throw past the first baseman in an attempt to nab Walker on a grounder. Both Lion runners scored to tie the game, while Walker hustled all the way to third. Chaves recorded an RBI infield single to score Walker for the 3-2 VU lead.

The inning continued as Bianca Morales doubled to right center, plating Chaves and extending the lead to 4-2. Mia Hernandez followed with a single to score Gurrola, and Ashley Klopfenstein knocked in the sixth run as her sacrifice fly brought in Morales.

Williams hit a groove through the fourth and fifth innings as she allowed just a single and a walk over that span. Melody Vizcaino replaced Toon in the circle and put up a pair of zeroes as well on the Lions.

Gilbert led off the sixth with a solo homer to center to cut the St. Thomas deficit to 6-3. However, the Lions extended their advantage to 8-3 with a pair of runs in the bottom half.

Corral got aboard on a fielding error by the first baseman, with Farley’s infield single to third putting two runners on the base paths. Walker’s bid for an RBI came up short as her shallow single to center allowed Kopicova to make a great throw to peg Corral at the plate. But the Lions quickly responded as Chaves poked a double to left center, allowing the speedy Farley and Walker to both score easily.

The Bobcats did not go quietly as they snatched back a pair of runs in the seventh and had the tying run at the plate with two out. Toon’s double to the right center gap knocked in a pair of runs to cut VU’s lead to 8-5. Gilbert then slapped a single to left to put runners at the corners. Falquez hit a deep fly to left that Farley camped under at the warning track, foiling her bid to tie the game.

It was the 61st career win for Williams, which ranks third all-time at VU.

Why Is It Important?: The Lions get Tuesday off as they await their next opponent in the regional.

What Was Said?: “Going in with the mindset that we’re going to win and that we can take this tournament,” said Chaves. “Just our girls being hyped up was a beautiful thing. Our mindset is to score first, and if not, we’re going to score second.”

What’s Next?: The Lions await the winner between No. 1 seed Oregon Tech and No. 4 seed Embry-Riddle (Ariz.). Those two teams will play on Tuesday at 1:00 p.m. VU’s next game will take place against one of those two opponents on Wednesday at 1:00 p.m.

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