(Univ. Great Falls Athletics) - History continues to be made by the 2016 Lady Argo softball squad. Weeks after earning the program’s first bid to the 2016 NAIA Softball Opening Round, UGF played in and won its first NAIA tournament game, while also beating a top-5 team for the first time, defeating (4) Campbellsville (Ky.) 4-1.
Campbellsville entered as the top seed of the four teams in the Morningside Bracket hosted in Sioux City, Iowa, while the Lady Argos were the low seed of the bracket. With so many firsts on the table for her team, UGF head coach Joey Egan said the primary goal she set was to come into the game loose and relaxed.
“My pregame talk was all about being our typical laidback, relaxed team – dancing to the music, doing our handshakes, everybody smiling,” Egan said. “It was definitely our mission to come out with a relaxed demeanor.”
Taking that mission to heart was UGF catcher Jocelyn Kaufman (15) who could be seen juggling before the game. After a scoreless first inning, the team’s easy mindset transitioned from pregame antics to on-field results.
Junior Hali Gruntowicz (19) was the game’s first batter to safely reach a base, getting to first on a wild throw to start the top of the 2nd. A single from pitcher Keeley Van Blaricom (6) brought Gruntowicz to second and proved to the rest of the team that the Lady Tiger’s starting pitcher was hittable, despite the 0.87 ERA she entered the game with.
Another CU error on a Mindy Larson (4) grounder brought Gruntowicz home for the game’s first point and set the momentum for a small rally. The next run to score came from an RBI fielder’s choice from junior Kylie Prough that brought Prough safely to first and a brought Van Blaricom home on a close play at the plate.
The juggler, Kaufman, drove in Larson on a single down the left field line to finish off a three run, two hit, two error, second inning for the Lady Argos.
“We were taking advantage of some errors that they were making and then had some clutch hits,” Egan said. “We weren’t trying to press or play scared. We were just playing typical UGF softball. It was a momentum changer.”
Back inside the pitching circle with a lead to defend, Van Blaricom was confident and effective. The Lady Tigers went three up, three down in the bottom of the 2nd and in the next inning, Van Blaricom extended the lead even further with an RBI single that drove in fellow senior Alex Lowry (14).
While the 4-0 lead was a surprise, at least based on the NAIA rankings and bracket seeding, the third inning was a perfect demonstration of why coach Egan said she thinks her team can still play better. UGF left two runners on base in both the 2nd and 3rd innings and then Van Blaricom had to get out of a jam in the bottom of the 3rd, forcing a ground out to end the inning with runners on second and third.
“Keeley is a rock. She excels when she is under pressure,” Egan said. “Its was like a young girl turned into a young lady out there on the mound. She didn’t really throw her best, but everything else she had going for her made her successful today.”
Despite getting into another jam in the 4th, Van Blaricom allowed just one run, an RBI sacrifice fly in the 6th, and four hits over seven innings to win her 14th game of the season. She was also the only Lady Argo to get more than one hit in the game.
She and Larson both scored a run and drove in a run for UGF with the other two RBIs coming from Prough and Kaufman. UGF’s ability to take advantage of Campbellsville’s mistakes was truly the difference with each pitcher allowing four hits and one earned run.
Having upset the top seeded team in the Morningside Bracket, the Lady Argos will now have to take down the second seed, hosting institution Morningside College (Iowa), to stay in the winner’s side of the tournament. Of the ten four seeds throughout the NAIA Opening Round brackets, UGF was one of just two to upset its top seeded opponent.
Those two teams will play on Tuesday, May 17 at 10 a.m. MT. The loser will have to play the winner of Campbellsville vs. Grand View (Iowa) at 4 p.m. that same day while the winner will advance to the Opening Round Championship on Wednesday, May 18.
“We got to watch Morningside earlier this afternoon and they’re a really good hitting team that made a big comeback in the last couple innings,” Egan said. “We’re going to have to better against them. They’re really tough.”