NASHVILLE, Tenn. - - Belmont (13-34, 7-9 A-Sun) picked up two must-have wins against ETSU on Friday evening at E.S. Rose Park. The Bruins took game one, 5-2, and game two, 6-3. Belmont returns to action tomorrow afternoon, with the first game against USC Upstate beginning at 4:30 p.m.
Belmont rallied in the middle innings of both games, picking up three runs in the bottom of the fourth and two more in the bottom of the fifth of game one to go ahead. In game two, Belmont scored three runs in the bottom of the fourth to tie the game and added two more in the bottom of the fifth and one in the bottom of the sixth to put the game out of reach. Home runs also played a crucial role in the game. Belmont got a solo home run from junior Courtney Elrod in game one followed by a two-run home run from senior Ashley Byers in game two.
In game one, after giving up two runs in the top of the fourth to fall behind 0-2, the Bruins rally began when senior Stayci Cook picked up a two out single to extend the inning, followed by a triple from freshman Kat Hollingsworth. The triple was the second of the night for Belmont and would be the first of the night for Hollingsworth, who also tripled in game two. After Hollingsworth's triple score the first Belmont run of the game, the two out rally continued when sophomore Ashley Hammer singled to right field, scoring Hollingsworth from third to tie the game at 2-2. The Bruins would go ahead on the very next play when sophomore Kim Johnson doubled to score Hammer before being thrown out trying to extend the play into another triple for the Bruins. Belmont continued their offensive surge in the next inning, putting more distance between itself and ETSU with two more runs, beginning with Elrod's solo shot to start the inning. It was third home run of the season and the fourth of her career. Following the home run, sophomore pitcher Mia Vierra singled and the Bruins had a runner on with still no outs. Senior Hannah Irwin moved Vierra to second with a sacrifice bunt, and then Byers reached on a fielding error by the left fielder that scored Vierra, giving Belmont the final 5-2 margin. Vierra picked up the win in the circle, her ninth of the season and her sixth in conference play. The sophomore recorded four strikeouts and allowed only one earned run on the game.
While two offensive rallies were key for the Bruins in both wins, it was also the Belmont defense that came up big Friday night, as the Bruins made plays to stall or prevent ETSU from gaining any momentum offensively, including a catch from Turner at the fence in centerfield and a diving grab by Hammer in the top of the seventh inning. Other defensive highlights include throwing a runner out at home in the first inning of game one to keep the game scoreless. The big story of the night, however, were the comebacks, first in game one and then again in game two. In the second game, Belmont rallied from a 0-3 deficit with three runs in the bottom of the fourth inning. The rally started when senior Stayci Cook won a battle at the plate, working a 1-2 count into an eventual walk after over 10 pitches in the at bat. Cook's walk followed a walk issued to Byers. Sophomore Kayla Brown came on to run for Byers while freshman Amanda Criscione ran for Cook. With two runners on and no outs, Hollingsworth doubled, scoring Brown. When Hollingsworth tried to stretch the double into a triple, she found third base occupied by Criscione. A bobble on the throw in from the outfield gave Criscione the chance to score and put Hollingsworth safely on third base. She would score on a pass ball, tying the game. Belmont pulled ahead in the bottom of the fourth inning, thanks to a two-run home run from Byers that struck halfway up the light pole in left center field. The Bruins added an insurance run in the bottom of the sixth after Hollingsworth started the inning with another triple and scored on an RBI single from Hammer. Vierra picked up the win, her second of the night, allowing only two earned runs, issuing only two walks, and recording two strikeouts against 30 batters faced.
The win put Belmont at 13-34, passing their win mark from 2011, and gave the Bruins a 7-9 mark in the conference, keeping them alive in the race for the final spot in the Atlantic Sun tournament. Belmont needs two wins tomorrow over USC Upstate to make their first Atlantic Sun Conference tournament. The first game tomorrow, originally scheduled for 5 p.m., has been moved to a 4:30 p.m. start time following commencement ceremonies on the Belmont campus. The game will be the final appearance for five Belmont seniors: Cassie Bollin, Amanda Buntin, Stayci Cook, Hannah Irwin and Ashley Byers. Senior recognition will take place between games of Saturday's doubleheader.
Full recaps are available at www.belmontbruins.com, as well as updated stats, links to livestats, and all schedule information. Fans can also follow the team on Twitter by searching @BelmontSoftball.