The final inning was costly for the University of Central Arkansas softball team against Middle Tennessee on Friday at the Tuscaloosa (Ala.) Regional.
No. 2 seed UCA lost 8-0 to No. 3 seed Middle Tennessee in five innings at the University of Alabama's Rhoades Stadium. The Bears allowed seven runs in the fifth inning.
UCA (44-11) entered the fifth inning trailing 1-0. The Bears had four hits and a walk in their first three innings but couldn't capitalize on any miscues by the Blue Raiders (40-18).
In the eighth inning, Middle Tennessee's offense struck and quickly sent UCA to the consolation bracket.
After back-to-back singles against starter Kayla Beaver, UCA turned to ace Jordan Johnson.
Johnson walked two, hit two and gave up a single in the six batters she faced before Beaver re-entered to pitch.
But neither pitcher could slow down the avalanche of baserunners created by the Blue Raiders.
Beaver gave up a single and a sacrifice fly but got Central Arkansas out of the inning with the score 8-0.
Morgan Curley drew a pinch-hit walk for UCA in the bottom of the fifth inning, but it was too late and the run-rule came into effect.
"[Middle Tennessee] played well. They came with a game plan offensively, and they put it on us," UCA Coach Jenny Parsons said.
"We picked a bad time to have the worst game we've pitched in a long time. [Johnson] didn't have a very good practice [Thursday]. ... We figured Kayla's hot, so let's just go with her. Kayla was throwing good, it's just she left a lot of balls over the plate. They're good hitters, and they were able to take advantage of it."
Johnson was charged with five earned runs in one-third of an inning. Beaver allowed 3 runs in 4 2/3 innings, giving up 9 hits and a walk.
Laura Mealer led Middle Tennessee at the plate with three hits and two RBI. Amaya Harris and Julia Garcia each recorded two hits and one run.
Offensively, Central Arkansas was held to four hits and two walks by Middle Tennessee pitcher Gretchen Mead.
"She spun it really well. She spun a screwball away from us, and then she'd come in late with a rise ball," Parsons said. "She had a nice little change-up. I wouldn't say it was that different in spread, but it was just enough to get you off balance a little bit."
Starting a tournament off with a loss is something the Bears are all too familiar with this season. UCA lost to North Alabama in its opening game of the ASUN Tournament last week before winning five games in three days to win the conference tournament.
To advance from the NCAA regional, UCA will need to win two elimination games today and beat either Middle Tennessee or No. 1 seed Alabama on Saturday to advance to the super regional round.
The Bears will face Long Island at 2:30 p.m. Central today in an elimination game. Long Island lost to top-seeded Alabama 5-0 on Friday. The Crimson Tide faces Middle Tennessee at noon today.
"We just have to recall our memories from last weekend," Parsons said. "We play one pitch at a time. I still think we're the team that can get to the championship game, we're just going to have a long road to go."