GREENSBORO, N.C. – No. 1 seed UNCG softball (46-11) claimed its first-ever Southern Conference Tournament Championship with a 5-2 victory over the No. 6 seed ETSU Buccaneers (19-27) on Saturday afternoon at UNCG Softball Stadium. The Spartans won all three games in the conference tournament on its home field, defeating No. 4 seed Chattanooga 4-1 and ETSU twice (6-3 on Friday).
UNCG earned the automatic bid reserved for the SoCon Champion in the NCAA Tournament. The Spartans will find out what region they will be going to next week with the selection show that will air on Sunday at 10 p.m. on ESPN2. This will be the second NCAA Regional appearance in program history, as the 1997 team won the Big South Tournament to advance to the NCAA Tournament.
"This year's team was determined to put UNCG on the NCAA Regional map," said Breneman. "The players’ resiliency all year and never lay down attitude was why we performed so well. We had an outstanding tournament with three big wins. We made key plays and hits when we needed to. I'm just thrilled for this group of young ladies and the program."
The win in the SoCon Championship game was the first in four tries for UNCG, including three times on its home field (2014 and 2013). Winners of the conference regular season championship as well, the Spartans become the first team to claim both the regular season and tournament championship since Samford accomplished the feat in 2016.
Alicia Bazonski was named the SoCon Tournament Most Outstanding Player. Bazonski (20-5) started and won all three games for UNCG in the circle. With a 1.07 ERA, two complete games and 19.2 innings pitched, she allowed just three runs, three walks and 17 hits with seven strikeouts.
"Bazonski has been stellar all-year long," said Breneman. "She has that fight in the circle that is unparalleled. She gets sharper when the game gets tight. I was so thrilled to get that first win to stay in the winner's bracket because I knew she could finish out and throw three great games. That's exactly what she did."
Marisa Sholtes and Rachael McClaskey were named to the all-tournament team. Sholtes went 1-3 in Saturday’s game with a run and had a two-run homer, double and walk in Friday’s win over ETSU. McClaskey knocked in the first run in the championship game, smacked a two-run homer to right field on Friday and went 1-2 in the first win over Chattanooga.
Mackenzie Winslow garnered the Pinnacle Award, which is given out to the winning team's player with the highest GPA. The senior just graduated with a degree in Business Administration on a perfect 4.0 GPA.
After ETSU scored the game’s first run in the first inning, UNCG tied the game up in the next inning. Leadoff batter Gabi Cubbage reached on a fielding error by the shortstop. After Becca Kale drew a one-out walk, McClaskey knocked in Cubbage with an RBI-single to left center.
The rest of the Spartans’ runs came in the fifth inning. Jasmine Palmer got a leadoff walk and advanced to second base on a sac bunt by Makenna Matthijs. Sholtes singled through the left side and went to second base on the throw. With two outs Cubbage hit her 7th homer of the year to left field for the game-winning run. Kayleigh Willis then made it back-to-back home runs with a solo shot to centerfield, her fifth of the year, second in the last two games and fifth home run by a Spartan in the conference tournament.
"Gabi came up huge for us," said Breneman. "With two outs and two runners on, she delivered. We've been doing that all year though. When somebody is down, somebody will pick her up. That's exactly what Gabi did. She's been a talented hitter in the middle of our lineup all season. I was excited she was at the plate in that situation. As a senior I knew she could handle it."
The Bucs scored a run in the sixth inning with an RBI-single to left center. In the final inning ETSU got a one-out single, but Bazonski produced consecutive groundouts to herself and Cubbage at third base to end the game.
Bazonski threw her team-high 15th complete game of the season, allowing seven hits, two runs and one walk with three strikeouts.
Willis was the only Spartan to collect multiple hits, going 2-3 at the plate. Three of the five hits for the Spartans were RBI-hits.
Lauren Lee, ETSU, Fr., OF
Madison Ogle, ETSU, Sr., P
Kylie Toler, ETSU, So., IF
Taylor Wright, ETSU, Jr., IF
Lindsey Bert, Furman, Sr., P
Caroline Taylor, Mercer, RSr., 1B
Ryan Brzozoski, Samford, Fr., UT
Alicia Bazonski, UNCG, Sr., P
Rachael McClaskey, UNCG, Sr., SS
Marisa Sholtes, UNCG, RJr., 1B
Most Outstanding Player
Alicia Bazonski, UNCG, Sr., P
Pinnacle Award Recipient
Mackenzie Winslow, UNCG, Business Administration, 4.0 GPA
-- UNCG --