All season long, the USC Beaufort softball team has touted its "refuse to lose" attitude. The Sand Sharks' performance Tuesday was a perfect illustration.
USC Beaufort's relentless offensive attack overcame Spring Hill's ace pitcher Caroline Sagrera on the way to a 6-4 win and a spot in Wednesday's noon championship of the NAIA Softball National Championship Opening Round at Richard Gray Sports Complex in Hardeeville.
After Spring Hill scored two runs in the top of the third to take a 4-2 lead and knock USC Beaufort starter Ashlie Layman from the game, Kristy Cook came on to strike out Elise DeBruler and end the inning.
In the bottom of the frame, Sun Conference Player of the Year C.J. Browder immediately cut the lead in half by manufacturing a run all by herself.
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After reaching on an error, Browder quickly stole second base. Once there, she became involved in a rundown between second and third two pitches later but was able to get back to second safely.
But after the play, Spring Hill's Sagrera made the mistake of turning her back to Browder while outside the circle. Browder broke again for third. When Sagrera realized what was happening, she threw to third, but Mariha Partman wasn't ready for the throw and it bounced away, allowing Browder to score.
"I was making something happen," Browder said. "I play to make things happen."
When Browder came up again in the top of the fifth with the score still 4-3, she tied the game by more conventional means, crushing a towering home run to left.
"I think most teams regularly get stronger through 3, 4 and 5," Cook said. "But I don't think teams are used to seeing a lineup like ours where our No. 9 hitter is batting .300. That's a big advantage."
Two batters later, Mariaha Sanborn blasted a two-run home run to right-center field for a 6-4 Sand Sharks lead.
"We're not out of anything," USCB coach Ty Rietkovich said.
The two-run lead was more than Cook would need.
"She did her job, and we did ours," Browder said.
Cook (22-0) rendered the Badgers' bats useless, retiring all 13 batters she faced to send Spring Hill into the losers' bracket. She struck out four.
"It's hard to say where this program would be without Kristy Cook," Rietkovich said.
Sagrera (32-9) surrendered a season-high six runs on seven hits in six innings. The Badgers made four errors that contributed to three unearned runs.
"We've been preparing for her," Browder said. "We got in the box with a plan. We knew we had to look down in the zone and be able to drive the ball."
USCB (43-4) will face Spring Hill again in Wednesday's championship. Spring Hill defeated Cumberland (Tenn.), 6-0, later Tuesday in an elimination game. Spring Hill will have to beat the Sand Sharks twice to advance to the NAIA National Championship.
Rietkovich said he's leaning toward starting Cook.
"If she's not an All-American," he said, "I don't know what one looks like."
Sagrera struck out Taylor Triplett looking in the bottom of the sixth for her 400th strikeout of the season. ... USCB had five stolen bases in the game. ... Spring Hill's No. 9 hitter, Sam Leach, hit a solo homer in the second inning, her first of the year.