May 29, 2010

ST. JOSEPH, Mo.-Bloomsburg University softball coach Jan Hutchinson deserved a better end to her historic career. Junior pitcher Shavaun Fisher deserved a better end to her resilient day.

But Angelo State catcher Kacie Easley told Hutchinson and Fisher what Clint Eastwood said to a dying Gene Hackman in the movie Unforgiven: "Deserve's got nothing to do with it."

Leading off the bottom of the eighth inning in an elimination game Saturday at the Division II softball championship at St. Joseph's Heritage Park. Easley got hold of a high fastball from Fisher-her 232nd pitch of the day-and lined it over the left field fence for a walk-off home run.

Easley's solo shot sends Angelo State (San Angelo, Texas) into Sunday's national semifinal against Valdosta (Ga.) State, where the Rambelles will need to beat Valdosta twice beginning at noon, CST.

"I was just looking for something to hit hard," Easley said. "I wasn't swinging for the fences, I just wanted to get something going. The ball was there and I just took a hack at it and it happened to go.

"That's my first walk-off, actually."

The sudden death loss sends Bloomsburg home to Pennsylvania with a 50-8 record and Hutchinson into retirement with a 1,215-282-2 career mark. She won 16 field hockey national championships and one softball title in 33 seasons with the Huskies.

"When we're competing I never think about it being my last season, and I don't want our team to feel any pressure for me," Hutchinson said. "It was a great game ... we came out and hit and got the lead and they came storming back. It was one of those games of championship plays, and it comes down to a mistake in one place or a big hit in another. "We stayed in it and we had our chances to win, it just didn't go our way."

One of those chances came in their first at-bat when Bloomsburg loaded the bases with one out only to watch Angelo State hurler April Haywood end the inning with back-to-back strikeouts.

The Rambelles stranded a pair of their own in the bottom of the second, and Bloomsburg center fielder Raychelle Kuhns kept the game scoreless in the bottom of the third by throwing out the speedy Sarah DeMoss at the plate.

Huskies' first baseman Sam Pientack responded by leading off the fourth with a long home run to left, and Bloomsburg made it 2-0 in the fifth when Nikki Shiko singled and scored on a clutch, two-out hit by catcher Lacy Mauro.

"It was such a back-and-forth game," Angelo State coach Travis Scott said. "Our kids battled, Bloomsburg battled, it was just a great game and a great day for Division II softball."

Angelo State finally figured Fisher out in the bottom of the fifth and took the lead with a critical two-out rally. DeMoss and Chelsey Walters each singled and scored on Kaycee Taylor's two-out hit (with the help of a Bloomsburg throwing error) and the Rambelles made it 4-2 after Amanda Wilhelm's single and Brittany Astle's bases-loaded walk. Angelo State did, however, leave the bases full when Mauro picked Easley off third base to end the fifth.

"Kacie made a bit of a mistake on a ball that got away from the catcher for a second, but fortunately she would redeem herself," Scott said. "If it's Angelo State softball, it always has to be the hard way," Haywood added.

Rambelle senior Chelsea Nelson relieved Haywood for the start of the sixth, and Pientack greeted Nelson with another leadoff home run to left field. Mandy Koch then doubled off the fence and scored on a Fisher single to tie the game at 4. Fisher went back to the circle and struck out the side in the bottom of the sixth, and Nelson kept the Huskie offense quiet the rest of the way.

Fisher pitched 16 innings Saturday against Molloy and Angelo State, striking out 14 and walking four. She also had two base hits and an RBI in eight plate appearances out of the Huskie 6-hole.

"I thought Shavaun did great in both games today," Hutchinson said. "It's been a great year, and it certainly wasn't her fault it came down to that one pitch. After eight innings of offense and seven innings of defense, anything can happen.

"We win together, we lose together."

Easley went 2-for-3 off Fisher to break out of her two-game tournament slump, and the heroic homer was her team-leading 16th of the season.

The 5-foot 6-inch freshman from Temple, Texas, was so excited she missed first base, ala Mark McGwire after his 62nd home run in 1998. Fisher was so stunned she just stood in the circle and stared into the distance beyond the left field fence as Angelo State's dugout poured onto the field.