If proving they belonged was the goal, the USC Beaufort softball team came through with flying colors Monday.
The top-seeded Sand Sharks beat fourth-seeded Cumberland (Tenn.) 13-5 in six innings in the second game of the NAIA Softball National Championship Opening Round USC Beaufort Bracket at Richard Gray Sports Complex in Hardeeville.
"It's always good to win the first one," USCB coach Ty Rietkovich said. "Obviously a concern is you don't want to be one of the teams that comes in and goes 0-2 and goes home.
"We wanted to prove we deserved to be here and we did that."
The Sand Sharks lived up to their offensive reputation, totaling 12 hits. Every USC Beaufort starter had a hit or scored a run.
"Offensively, we had a plan coming in and we executed it," Rietkovich said. "It's our M.O. You don't have the reputation we do as an offense without getting nine or 10 hits a game."
Mariaha Sanborn was 2 for 3 with a homer, two runs scored and three RBIs and Taylor Triplett was 3 for 4 with two RBIs and two runs scored to lead the Sand Sharks (42-4), who will play Spring Hill (Ala.) at 11 a.m. Tuesday.
Triplett and C.J. Browder had back-to-back RBI doubles in the first to give USCB an early lead. But it was short-lived. Cumberland's Jessica Roper followed teammate Sydney Broderick's line-drive single with a two-run blast well over the right-center field fence in the top of the second.
"Anytime you face an opponent for the first time, you have to find out the best way to approach them," USCB starting pitcher Kristy Cook said. "I felt like (Roper) was just waiting on her pitch (a low screwball). Once we found out what we wanted to do, we were able to handle her."
The two second-inning hits were the last Cook would surrender until the sixth inning. The rest of the Bulldogs' scoring came during the fifth inning, pitched by Caitlin Campbell.
The deadlock didn't last long. The Sand Sharks got right back to it in the bottom of the second with three straight hits to open the inning. Missy Hughes doubled in two runs before scoring on Katie Rietkovich's sacrifice fly to push the lead back to 5-2.
"The most important thing is to get back up and get back ahead," Ty Rietkovich said. "You're going to get knocked down. You just want to be sure you get back up one more time."
And the Sand Sharks stayed up, breaking the game wide open with a six-run third. After Maddie Byrd knocked a one-out single and Shelby Zipperer was hit by a pitch, Sanborn hit her ninth homer of the season. Sammi Shaffren and Triplett also had RBI singles in the inning.
The Bulldogs scored three in the fifth, but USCB plated two in the sixth to end it on the mercy rule.
Cook (21-0) earned the win, allowing two runs on three hits over five innings. Cumberland's Courtney Maynard (19-10) took the loss, giving up five runs (four earned) over two innings.
Roper was 2 for 2 with three RBIs for Cumberland (36-21), which drops into an elimination game against Virginia Intermont at 2 p.m. Tuesday.
The Sand Sharks will face a tough Spring Hill (42-14) team and may see the second-seeded Badgers' ace, Caroline Sagrera (32-8), who struck out 11 in her five-inning win over third-seeded Virginia Intermont on Monday.
"She mixes her pitches real well," Ty Rietkovich said. "We've got to be patient, don't rush. We've got a plan, we just have to do what we've talked about.
"We've got to know what we're looking for and go after it."