The remarkable run reached the championship game before coming to an end for the USC Beaufort softball team, which won four straight games in the loser's bracket of the Sun Conference Tournament before falling 5-4 to St. Thomas in the title game Monday at the National Training Center in Clermont, Fla.
After winning three games Sunday to stay alive, the Sand Sharks (39-11) reached the championship game with a 4-3 win over Southeastern on Monday morning, but they couldn't hold off the Bobcats, who ran through the tournament undefeated to claim the league's automatic berth in the NAIA National Championship Opening Round.
USCB will await the announcement of the entire 40-team field Tuesday evening and hopes to receive an at-large bid. The Sand Sharks were ranked in the top 25 in every poll of the season until the most recent one and finished as the Sun Conference regular-season and tournament runner-up.
The Sand Sharks improved their resume with Monday's win over Southeastern (36-16), another team hopeful for an at-large bid. USCB grabbed an early lead against the Fire on Mariaha Sanborn's RBI single in the first, but Southeastern scored twice in the bottom of the inning when Kim Pierce laced an RBI triple and scored on a squeeze bunt.
Never miss a local story.
USCB junior Kristy Cook (15-7) shut down the Fire from there, though, and the Sand Sharks regained the lead in the third thanks to an error and Sanborn's RBI double. Shelby Zipperer added a sacrifice fly in the sixth, and the insurance run proved vital, as the Fire pushed across an unearned run in the seventh before Cook stranded the tying run at third.
Sanborn went 3 for 3 with two RBIs and Taylor Triplett had two hits for USCB. Cook allowed three runs (two earned) on five hits in a complete game for her second win of the tournament.
The Sand Sharks appeared poised to force a second game against St. Thomas before the Bobcats put together a late rally. USCB struck first on Triplett's RBI single in the first and Sammi Shaffren's RBI fielder's choice in the fourth made it 2-0.
The Bobcats (27-25) finally broke through in the sixth when a USCB error helped set up a four-run outburst. Danielle Borrelli's two-run single up the middle tied it, and Natalie Sacramento plated two more with another hit up the middle.
USCB was down to its final strike in the seventh before Zipperer ripped a two-out, two-run double to the left-field fence to tie it, but the Bobcats loaded the bases with no outs in the seventh and scored the winning run on Jessica Matias' infield single.
Triplett went 3 for 4 and Alexandria Simmons added two hits in the game for USCB.
Sanborn, Simmons and Cook were among 10 players named to the All-Tournament Team.