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Bears earn two wins, on to final

by Sam Lane | May 13, 2023 at 2:22 a.m.

The University of Central Arkansas did not hold a lead to start an inning once Friday at the ASUN Softball Tournament in DeLand, Fla.

But that didn't stop the top-seeded Bears from picking up two wins and advancing to the tournament final for a rematch with No. 5 North Alabama -- the team that beat them 2-0 on Thursday -- at noon Central today.

UCA (42-10) ended its night with an 11-inning, nearly three-hour marathon of a contest by defeating defending tournament champion and No. 2 seed Liberty 2-1.

Both UCA and Liberty's offenses were scoreless through the first seven innings, combining for seven total hits.

In the eighth inning, Liberty broke the deadlock with a solo home run from ASUN Player of the Year Caroline Hudson to take a 1-0 lead. UCA quickly leveled thanks to Mary Kate Brown's RBI single in the bottom half of the inning to make it 1-1.

Liberty's Karlie Keeney and UCA's Kayla Beaver battled for the next three innings, holding each other's offenses off the scoreboard. But in the 11th inning, UCA's Morgan Nelson hit a ball just over the glove of Liberty third baseman Rachel Craine to bring Brown home and win, 2-1.

UCA opened its day of consolation play with a 3-1 eight-inning win over Florida Gulf Coast.

The Bears and Eagles each entered extra innings with one run each. UCA's came in the second inning on a Jenna Wildeman RBI single. Florida Gulf Coast's run came the inning before on a Sam Leski RBI single to left field.

UCA gave up two hits in the top of the eighth, but Beaver drew a flyout from Leski to end the threat.

In the bottom half of the eighth, Brown got the Bears started with a single. Two batters later, Jaylee Engelkes hit her second home run of the tournament to advance UCA to the consolation final.

Over 19 innings played Friday, UCA trailed to start one of them, was tied for the other 18 and held on to win both games.

That was, in large part, thanks to the efforts of Kayla Beaver and Jordan Johnson in the circle.

Johnson held FGCU to one unearned run on four hits and a walk through 61/3 innings before handing the ball over to Beaver, who held the Eagles scoreless for the final 12/3 innings of the win.

Beaver then started Game 2, going toe-to-toe with Keeney for 11 innings. She held the Lady Flames to one run on 7 hits and 2 walks, striking out 7 batters. Beaver faced 43 batters. She got 16 flyouts and 11 groundouts with 144 pitches to go with the 14 she threw against FGCU.

The Bears will need to beat North Alabama twice today to clinch their first conference tournament crown in program history.

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