DUNCAN, S.C. — In what is becoming a normal occurrence for the UNC Pembroke softball team as of late, the Braves rattled off two more mercy-rule wins Saturday at the Mid-South Classic by downing Barton 8-0 in six innings before toppling Converse 12-3 in five frames at Tyger River Park in Duncan.
The victories give the Braves (11-4) four-straight wins by a combined 63-3 score with all four wins shortened by run rule. The Black & Gold now has now ended the game early in seven of its 11 wins this season. Barton (6-6) wraps up the Mid-South Classic with a 1-3 record, while Converse (0-10) is still searching for the season’s first triumph.
The Black & Gold scored early and often in the day’s first tilt against Barton, as UNCP scored twice in the first frame and plated at least one run in every inning.
Jamie Johnson led off the game with a triple and scored on the first of three hits from Haleigh Epperson. After Epperson swiped second, she came around to score on a Barton error to push the UNCP lead to 2-0 after one. Another Bulldog miscue allowed a Black & Gold runner to cross in the third, as Rendi Wetherington scampered home after a sacrifice bunt from Johnson.
Alex Watkins ripped a one-out single in the third and moved to third on another Barton error before scoring on a double steal. It’s the second time this season Watkins has swiped home. Back-to-back doubles from Epperson and Abbey Walters plated UNCP’s fifth run in the latter half of the fourth, while Wetherington stretched the lead to 7-0 in the fifth on a 2-RBI single that plated Watkins and Jessica Auld.
Epperson led off the sixth with a single, stole her second bag of the game and came around to score the game-ending run on a Taylor Gerhart single to center to finish off the Braves’ third mercy-rule win over Barton this season and sixth overall.
Walters (2-for-4) and Gerhart (2-for-3) joined Epperson (3-for-4) in the multi-hit club, while the Braves swiped five bags as a team and were hit by a pitch three times.
Walters (6-1) tossed her third shutout and fourth complete game in the circle to lower her season ERA to a miniscule 0.91. The senior allowed just two hits and fanned four Bulldogs on just 58 pitches.
UNCP picked up right where it left off in game two against Converse by scoring seven runs on six hits in the top of the first. Epperson kick started the scoring with an RBI triple before Gerhart plated two on a single up the middle. Auld ripped a single to left center to plate the fourth run and Toni Nelson made it 6-0 on a ground-rule double. Lexie Coxe’s sacrifice fly made it 7-0 UNCP before the Valkyries had a chance at the dish.
After two scoreless frames from the UNCP offense, it exploded again in the fourth, this time for five runs on four hits and three Converse errors.
Walters singled home the first run followed by an RBI single from Gerhart to push the lead to 9-3. A Valkyrie error plated the next two UNCP runs before Bailey Hoch singles home the 12th and final tally.
Three Braves racked up two hits and nine different Black & Gold batters had at least one base knock. Gerhart went 2-for-3 with three RBIs and two runs scored, while Johnson was 2-for-4 with two runs scored and a pair of stolen bases to bring her total to a team-best 14 swipes this season. Gerhart’s trio of runs batted in brings her season total to a Peach Belt Conference-leading 25.
The Braves now have at least 10 hits in 10 of their 15 games and are averaging 9.3 runs per outing. Walters (.542) and Watkins (.513) are 1-2 in the PBC batting average race and UNCP’s .418 team batting average leads the league by a wide margin.
UNCP returns to action at the Mid-South Classic Sunday with games at noon and 2 p.m. against Wingate (9-9) and Catawba (5-14), respectively.