UNION- If there’s one thing the Kean University softball team made clear during the NCAA Union Regional tournament, it’s that they knows how to pull of a come-from-behind win.
The top-seeded Cougars (36-8) squared off against second-seeded Christopher Newport in the final round of the tournament earlier today. Kean’s title chances seemed pretty dire after the Captains (34-10) won the 11 a.m. matchup to force a winner-take-all championship game, and things seemed even worse when Christopher Newport took a 1-0 lead in into the sixth inning of that final game.
The Cougars proved they could win by rallying from behind in their first game of the tournament, and today they proved it again. Just like they did in the first round, the Cougars stepped their game up when they needed to the most. A three-run sixth inning rally allowed Kean to take a 4-1 comeback victory in the second game and earn the NCAA Union Regional title.
After narrowly losing the first game of the day 3-2, Kean head coach Margie Acker had a simple message for her players.
“Stay composed and do what we've been doing all year,” the coach recalled, during the championship game’s post-game presser. "(I told them) we need to string some hits and play some defense, and I thought we’d get the job done.”
In Kean’s tournament opener against Neumann University, Emily Sabo stepped up during a bottom of the seventh two-out situation, and drove in the winning run. Sabo’s card was called one again called upon today, and she responded in similar fashion.
An unearned run in the bottom of the first inning run gave the Captains an early 1-0 lead, and for six innings that was the only score of the game. With two outs in the top of the sixth inning, Sabo struck a single up the middle that ended up being the starting point of a game-winning rally. Cayleen Rizzo drew a walk in the following at-bat, and in the at-bat after that, Dana Knapp blasted a ball off the center field wall to hit a double that sent both runners in for the tying and go-ahead runs.
Acker said the come-from-behind win gave her team confidence in themselves during today’s series.
“I think was a major factor in today’s win,” she said. “We had to fight back today. We lost the first game, we started coming back a little bit in the first game, and they ended up beating us. This game, they were up one run, and I knew one run wasn't’t a lot to be down. I knew we had the hitters to come up and come through. I think the confidence that game one (gave us) was huge for us."
Jacqueline Riley sent Knapp home off an RBI single later in the next at-bat, and former South Plainfield standout Caroline Ratti added onto the score in the top of the seventh with an RBI single.
Despite throwing 109 pitches and giving up eight hits and three runs during the first game, Shannon McMahon came up big for Kean in the winner-take-all. McMahon was in the circle for all 14 innings, and finished the second game with three hits, one run, a strikeout, and no earned runs.
“We had our awards night the other night and I said Shannon was a bulldog,” said Acker. “I want the ball in her hands when the game is on the line, because she has a lot of heart. She gets the job done.”
Sabo went 3-for-4 in both games. Knapp had one RBI in the first game and two in the second, while Ratti had one hit each in both games. Sabo was named outstanding player of the tournament, while Knapp, Rizzo, McMahon and Olivia Zengel were named to the All-Tournament team.
Kean will face the No. 1 team in the country, Virginia Wesleyan, in the Super Regionals this weekend. The Cougars are no stranger to Super Regional play as they won it back in 2015. Even though their opponent this year is formidable the Cougars remain confident.
“We’re all excited; we just want to play our game,” said Sabo. “We did it my sophomore year; it was crazy how we did it. Again, we lost the first game in the championship, and we came back and we won. We’re not quitters, we’re always fighting, so we’ll never just stop playing.”