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Softball Sweeps LaGrange to Advance in USA South Tournament

Cris Gant (Nina Grauley/ Sports Information)
Cris Gant (Nina Grauley/ Sports Information)

LAGRANGE, Ga. -- Behind stellar pitching, including a complete-game from Cris Gant in game one, the No. 4 seeded Covenant softball team swept No. 3 seed LaGrange in a first round, best-of-3 series in the USA South Tournament on Friday afternoon. Covenant took game one 4-2 before earning the series sweep with a 3-1 victory in the finale.

Covenant (22-18) moves on to the double-elimination portion of the USA South Tournament for the first time in program history. The Lady Scots will face No. 2 East seed Meredith on Friday, April 13 at 10 a.m. at the Shuford Softball Complex in LaGrange, Ga., as part of the USA South's Spring Festival.

The win also ties a program record for victories in a season (22). It also means Covenant will have a winning record for a second consecutive season, the first time the program has had back-to-back winning seasons.

GAME ONE: Covenant 4, LaGrange 2

Cris Gant was masterful in the circle as she tossed a complete-game and Covenant was able to score four runs in the middle innings to take a 4-2 victory.

Gant (3-3) was on her game from the start. The senior right-hander did not allow a hit until one out in the sixth inning and she finished off the game allowing two hits, while striking out nine.

Covenant was able to give Gant some run support in the fourth inning. Shannon Schmitt led off with a hit-by-pitch, the 14th of the year for Schmitt, and her pinch-runner, Tyler Epes, eventually advanced to third with two away. Erika Mast came through with a single to center field to score Epes and make it 1-0. 

After Gant retired the LaGrange side in the bottom of the fourth, the Lady Scots added two runs in the fifth. Back-to-back singles from Faith Manning and Madalyn Ames started the frame and Carlin Labuzan delivered a two-run single that plated both runners to give Covenant a 3-0 lead. Covenant would add an insurance run in the sixth when Manning singled home Shelby Ralston to make it 4-0.

LaGrange finally got to Gant in the sixth. The host Panthers scored twice and had a runner on third with one out, but Gant got a foul out and a strikeout to wiggle out of the jam without further damage.

Gant then produced a 1-2-3 inning in the seventh to secure the win. Gant had four perfect innings throughout the game.

Mast finished 3-for-4 with an RBI, while Labuzan was 1-for-4 with two RBIs. Manning also had three hits in three at-bats to help Covenant out-hit LaGrange 10-2.

Emily Cauldwell (7-11) got the loss for LaGrange as she went all seven innings and allowed three earned runs on 10 hits. Emily Barrs and Brittany Todd had a hit apiece for the Panthers.

GAME TWO: Covenant 3, LaGrange 1

More strong pitching was in order in game two as Sarah Huskey and Joni Johnson combined to allow just one run as Covenant completed the sweep with a 3-1 victory.

One unearned run was all that LaGrange could muster off Huskey and Johnson in the finale. Huskey (6-2) made the start and went five innings, scattering eight hits and striking out one. Johnson came on in the sixth and threw two scoreless innings to collect the save and give Covenant the win.

Covenant got on the board with two runs in the second inning. With two outs and nobody on, Mast and Shade Epes recorded consecutive singles to put runners at first and second. Manning kept the line moving as she doubled to left-center field, scoring both runners to give Covenant a 2-0 lead.

In the third inning, Covenant was back at it again. Madyson Gibbins led off with an infield single and later scored on a Schmitt single to center field to make it 3-0.

LaGrange (13-21) scratched a run across in the fifth when Covenant committed an error on Sydney Hodorff's grounder, allowing Carolyn Harkness to score and cut the Lady Scots lead to 3-1.

The Panthers looked poised to tie, or take the lead, in the sixth inning. The first two batters singled and later moved to second and third with one away. After Johnson got a weak pop out for the second out, LaGrange's Katelin Richardson drove a ball to deep center field, but Mast was able to run it down and make the catch near the fence to end the threat.

Johnson then worked around a leadoff single in the seventh and retired the next three hitters to advance Covenant to next week's USA South Tournament play.

Covenant had seven hits in the game, led by Manning going 2-for-2 with two RBIs. LaGrange's Harkness and Sutton Bridges had two hits apiece as the Panthers had nine hits.

Chelsea Twardoski (6-8) picked up the loss for LaGrange after going six innings and allowing three runs on seven hits.

UP NEXT

Covenant will travel back to LaGrange next weekend for the six-team, double elimination part of the USA South Tournament. Lady Scots play Meredith at 10 a.m. on Friday, April 13. A win would put Covenant in the winners' bracket game at 2 p.m. later on Friday, while a loss would put Covenant in a losers' bracket game on Saturday, April 14 at 10 a.m.

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