GREENEVILLE, Tenn. – For the second time this season, the King University softball team took down a ranked opponent. The Pioneer Classic may have started two hours late, but the Tornado defeated #23 Kutztown University 5-2 in the opening game of the tournament on Friday night. The nightcap against East Stoudsburg University didn't disappoint either as Fallon Thomas ripped a grand slam in the bottom of the seventh inning to give King the 6-2 win to sweep the first day of the tournament.
King (4-7) set the tone early against last year's national runner-up, plating a pair of runs in the first inning. Cassie Ringstaff started the rally with a one-out single to center field. She then stole second, and after a Thomas walk, Hannah Smith laced a single to right field that scored Ringstaff. Amber Walker later came up with a two-out run scoring single up the middle to give King a 2-0 lead over Kutztown after the top of the first inning.
The Golden Bears (1-4) answered in the bottom of the inning as Colleen Smith ripped a double to right field that scored Jackie Heltzer, who reached on an error to cut the deficit in half.
It didn't take long for King to get that run back as Cheyenne Delffs started the second inning with a double to center field. She later scored on a Thomas groundout to stretch the Tornado lead back to two runs.
That was all the offense King pitcher Hannah Light would need as she earned her second win over a ranked team this season. The senior allowed one more run in the third inning, but bounced back to retire 12 of the final 14 batters she faced. Light struck out the side in the fifth inning, and ended the victory with back-to-back strikeouts in the bottom of the seventh inning. The Coeburn, Va., native only allowed the two runs on six hits while striking out a career-high 14 batters. Her previous career-high of 13 came in the final game of the 2013 season in the Conference Carolinas Tournament against the University of Mount Olive.
The offense added a couple insurance runs, in the third inning when Octavia Lewis-Rand started the frame with a single up the middle. With the bases loaded later in the inning, Chrissy Melcher crushed a double to left center that scored two, giving King a 5-1 lead. The Tornado left the bases loaded in the frame, however, before the Golden Bears scored their final run in the bottom of the third.
The Tornado threatened to break the game open in each the fourth and seventh innings, but King couldn't get the clutch hit as they left the bases loaded in each inning. In the game, the Tornado left 15 runners on base to Kutztown's six.
Melcher paced the Tornado offense, going 3-for-5 with two runs batted in. Ringstaff, Lewis-Rand and Walker all registered two hits as the offense recorded a season-high 12 hits in the win.
Light was nearly as dominant in the nightcap against East Stroudsburg (1-1) as she didn't allow a hit until the fifth inning and struck out 12 batters in the contest. With Light shutting down the Warrior offense, Tori McComas sparked a Tornado rally in second inning. She worked a two-out walk before Delffs ripped a single to center field to turn the lineup over. Down in the count 0-2, Melcher laced a triple down the right field line to give King the 2-0 lead after two innings.
The Warriors' first hit off of light came in the fifth inning as Cara Woods ripped a double, but she was thrown out trying to stretch it to a triple, and it looked as though Light would cruise to the victory. However, East Stroudsburg sparked a rally in the seventh inning as Rebecca Smith ripped a double down the right field line to give the Warriors a chance. Kasey Meckes followed the double with a home run to left center to even the score at two. Light responded by striking out the next batter before a groundout ended the frame with the score tied at two.
Delffs worked a walk to start a Tornado rally in the bottom of the seventh before East Stroudsburg made a pitching change. After the substitution, Melcher walked to put two runners on before Ringstaff reached a fielder's choice as the Warrior defense tried to get the lead runner, but made an errant throw to load the bases for Thomas. The senior worked the count until she got a pitch she liked, crushing the 3-1 offering over the center field fence to end the game and give King the 6-2 win.
Thomas led the King offense, going 2-for-2 with four runs batted in and two walks while Delffs went 2-for-2 and scored two runs. Melcher also added two hits, going 2-for-3 with two runs scored and a walk. On the day, Light struck out 26 batters in 14 innings of work, earing both wins for the Tornado.
King continues play at the Pioneer Classic on Saturday when they face Mercyhurst University at 2:00 p.m., before taking on East Stroudsburg again at 6:00 p.m.