May 30, 2010

By Bo Allegrucci
Special to

ST. JOSEPH, Mo. - North Georgia won the first 51 softball games they played in 2010, but Missouri came to be misery for the nation's top-ranked team.

The Saints lost two games in 28 hours at the NCAA Division II softball championships here, and their incredible season came to an unbearable end Saturday with a 4-1 loss to Denver's Metro State.

North Georgia (51-2) was eliminated from the tournament, while Metro State (53-5) advances to play Hawaii Pacific at 2:30 p.m. on Sunday. If Hawaii Pacific wins, it will advance to the championship game, but if Metro State wins, second game will follow to determine which team advances.

North Georgia's junior ace Sarah Phillips retired 14 of 16 Metro hitters at one point, striking out nine and allowing just five hits against a Roadrunner lineup that leads the nation in home runs and slugging percentage.

With Phillips' Saints actually out-hitting the Roadrunners 2 to 1, those home runs and slugging percentage proved back-breaking in the end.

All-America Tara Mickelson thumped her second home run of the tournament and Division II-leading 25th of the year to put Metro State up 2-1 in the bottom of the fourth, and Jennessa Tessone launched a crushing two-run bomb in the top of the sixth to put the game out of reach.

"I just can't say enough about our entire team," Metro State coach Jen Fisher said. "North Georgia's a well put together team, and they don't make many mistakes. The big thing we tell our kids is you're going to do it 5,000 times in practice and you have to be ready for the one time it matters in the game."

North Georgia scored in its first at-bat when Courtney McGuire chipped a double down the right field line and scored on Leslee Smith's single to left. Metro State promptly tied it in their first plate appearance when Amber Roundtree led off with an infield hit and scored on a two-out double by Tesone. Tesone hit .359 with 18 homeruns coming into the tourney and finished 2-for-3 with three RBI and a run scored against North Georgia.

After Metro State centerfielder Molly Clark gunned down North Georgia's Katherine Martin at the plate to end the top of the fourth, Mickelson led off the bottom half of the inning with a rope over the right-centerfield wall to make it 2-1.

"Obviously that was a huge play, us getting thrown out at the plate," North Georgia coach Mike Davenport said of Clark's assist. "With our leadoff hitter coming up with runners on second and third, what a difference that makes. You have to credit their defense for making plays like that, and then the young lady leads off and goes deep and all of a sudden we find ourselves down."

"That was definitely a turning point, because once we took care of business on defense we knew we were going to take care of business on offense," Fisher said. With a tenuous one-run lead, Metro State pitcher Christie Robinson retired North Georgia in order in the fifth and stranded a pair of runners in the sixth. Roundtree banged out her second hit of the night leading off the seventh for the Roadrunners, but Phillips got the second out of the inning by striking out Mickelson for the second time in the game.

Just when it looked like the Saints would need only one run in their final at-bat, Tesone had other ideas. The 5-foot-7 junior got a high Phillips fastball on a 2-2 count and skied a no-doubter high into left field and out of the park.

"With a team like this (North Georgia), we need that lead ... one run's not going to help us at all," said Tesone, who hit a walk-off homer against Wayne State in Super Regionals last weekend. "Our bats weren't really firing the first couple games and now they're starting to, so you haven't seen the last of us yet."

With one on and one out in the top of the seventh, North Georgia's Lauren Dykes scared the Roadrunners with a sizzling foul ball past first base and a long fly-out to right-center that barely stayed in the park.

But that was as close as the Saints came to saving their season.