SALEM, Va. -- Slow starts at the NCAA Division III Softball Tournament can be devastating.
Kean’s players and coaches knew this going into Friday’s elimination game against Alfred. The Cougars opened the tournament getting beat 1-0 by Texas-Tyler on Thursday, and two innings into the Alfred game, still no Kean player had crossed home plate.
“I looked at the scoreboard at one point [in Friday’s game] and said ‘we have three hits in the tournament so far. … that’s it,’ ” Kean coach Margie Acker said. “It’s very frustrating. … We work a lot on hitting at practice, obviously, and it was a relief.“With [starting pitcher Courtney Yard] on the mound, we limit teams to runs and hits, if we don’t make mistakes.”
That made the Cougars’ third inning all the better. They got a little bit of help from a throwing error, but eight runs, eight hits and one chased pitcher later, Kean was in control and back in the tournament.
The Cougars went on to beat Alfred 10-4, and earned the right to play in another elimination game. They take on Salisbury at 4 p.m. Saturday, at the James I. Moyer Complex. They earned the chance by taking Acker’s advice.
“I told them they needed to win today to stay here in the tournament,” she said. “That’s it.”
After managing just two hits and a handful of baserunners in the opener, Kean came back with 14 hits, highlighted by the eight-run third inning.
“We play better with our backs against the wall,” Acker said. “We came out hitting the ball today. We cleaned up our defense a little bit and scored some runs.”
Kean has proven it doesn’t need a whole lot of offense to support Yard. Coming into the tournament, the senior had recorded 829 strikeouts, two perfect games, another no-hitter and had 18 complete-game victories in the postseason. Against Texas-Tyler, Yard gave up just four hits. And the run Texas-Tyler did score was unearned.
“That’s my expectation of her,” Acker said. “She has been our leader for four years, and I expect that kind of performance from her every day.”
Yard, who in addition to throwing the first pitch of the game, also took the first swings for Kean. She is the Cougars’ lead-off hitter. She helped her own cause quite a bit, finishing with three hits and scoring twice.
“That third inning was awesome,” she said. “It’s a lot of pressure to lead off, but I know my job is to get on base, and that’s what I did today.”
This is Kean’s first trip to the championship series since 1986, something the school’s sports information department had some fun with when it was putting together a postseason media guide. It recalled that gas cost 89 cents a gallon, the Dow was sitting at 1,955 and the movie Top Gun and the song “Danger Zone,” which was on that movie’s sound track, were both big hits.
Now, the Cougars’ coach wants some modern, on-the-diamond hits --just like she saw on Friday.
“They were a little more relaxed today,” Acker said of her team’s hitters. “They were more patient. We had to be more patient and go with the pitches that were thrown -- and that’s what we did today.”