Lancers take two one-run games from Spartans
In a showdown between two of the top three softball teams in the Big South, Longwood (26-25, 14-6 Big South) used a suicide squeeze from Madison Blair and a one-hitter from Sydney Backstrom to take game one from USC Upstate 2-1 and followed with a walk-off sacrifice fly by Mason Basdikis to win game two 9-8 in extra innings and sweep a Saturday doubleheader over the Spartans at Lancer Field.
Longwood’s one-run wins came in a critical Big South series at the end of the regular season, with USC Upstate (25-15, 12-5 Big South) fighting to hold on to the league’s No. 2 seed for the upcoming Big South Championship on May 13-15 and the Lancers battling to move up from their current No. 3 position.
Both victories came by way of late-game heroics, as the junior Blair executed a risky suicide squeeze to break open a 1-1 deadlock in the bottom of the fifth in game one, and her classmate Basdikis drove in the tying run in the bottom of the sixth inning of game two and followed with her walk-off sacrifice fly in the bottom of the eighth.
“That’s the nature of May. It’s that time of year,” first-year Longwood head coach Dr. Megan Brown said, whose Lancers secured at least a third-place finish in the Big South standings with Saturday’s sweep.
The wins were Longwood’s sixth and seventh in a row against USC Upstate and improved the Lancers to 6-0 against the mid-major powerhouse Spartans since they joined the Big South in 2019. The Lancers are only the second team to win a Big South series against USC Upstate this season and will have a shot at becoming the first to sweep the Spartans in 2021 in Sunday’s finale at 1 p.m.
“I’m extremely pleased with our effort,” Brown said. “Our young ladies came out today to do a job, and I was very proud they showed up and did it. With classes ending and finals this week, we’ve had some time to work on a few things, some execution pieces we’ve been spending time on. It was good to see good at bats and some good team defense.”
Along with Basdikis’ two hits and late-game RBI in game two, Longwood’s senior class – which was honored before the game for Senior Day – provided plenty of highlights of their own. Graduate students and fifth-year starting infielders Kasey Carr and Destiny Martinez combined for four hits, four RBI and errorless defense in the middle infield, with Martinez driving in runs in both games. Senior Leah Powell also contributed at the plate in her swan-song series at Lancer Field, going 3-for-6 with two doubles and three runs – including the game-winner on Blair’s squeeze bunt.
In the circle, senior ace Sydney Backstrom (19-11) threw a one-hitter in game one to out-duel fellow Big South Pitcher of the Year candidate Mallie Brown in the 2-1 victory. Her classmate Arleigh Wood also contributed out of the bullpen in game two, taking over for Backstrom in the second inning and recording eight outs before yielding to junior Angelina Sherba (1-0), who finished out the game with 4.1 innings of relief and a win.
“I’m always pleased when our team plays together as a whole,” Brown said. “It’s good to have someone shine, and that’s always a plus, but we practice to play as a team. Today we looked a lot like a team.”