Radford ends Longwood’s softball season

Published 2:33 pm Friday, May 14, 2021

Fueled by a one-hit shutout from All-Big South right-hander Jesse Marvin, the fourth seed Radford Highlanders (22-31) dealt the third seeded Longwood Lancers a season-ending 4-0 defeat in a Big South Championship elimination game Friday at Brinkley Softball Stadium.

The loss makes Radford only the third team since 2013 to eliminate the Lancers from the Big South Championship, halting what was Longwood’s pursuit of a sixth Big South title.

Marvin (11-15), whom the Lancers (26-28) faced just once in their two-games-to-one Big South series win over the Highlanders earlier this season, limited Longwood’s lineup to just four baserunners with a single and three walks. She struck out nine and faced just three batters over the minimum in what was only the Lancers’ third time getting shut out by a Big South opponent in 2021.

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That effort put her over the top in a duel with Big South Pitcher of the Year Sydney Backstrom (19-13), who threw her second complete game in less than 24 hours but could not come back from Radford’s three-run first inning. The senior ace scattered eight hits and four runs against Radford’s top-three Big South offense but, for only the sixth time in her Big South-leading 34 starts this season, got no run support from her offense.

​The loss brings to a close a 2021 season in which Longwood achieved its eighth consecutive top-three Big South finish, went 14-7 in Big South play, defeated a Top-25 Division I opponent for the 10th time in school history, and placed four players on the All-Big South team – all under first-year head coach Dr. Megan Brown.

But it took more than Marvin to close the book on Longwood’s season, as Radford’s defense backed her effort with a wealth of highlight-reel plays in the field, including multiple diving stops by second baseman Taylor Breidt and a rally-killing, unassisted double play by All-Big South shortstop Autumn Slemaker in the sixth inning.

Radford’s defensive performance helped Marvin carry a no-hitter into the fifth inning before Longwood sophomore Lauren Taylor broke it up with a leadoff single. However, Slemaker went on to double her off at second base after catching a line drive near the bag to kill that burgeoning rally.

At the plate, Big South batting average leader Sydney Fisher jump-started Radford’s offense with a leadoff home run in the first inning as part of a 4-for-4 performance, and the Highlanders carried the momentum from there. Slemaker drove in two RBI with a single that same inning, which sent in All-Big South first baseman Madison Canady for the first of her team-high two runs of the game.

Radford amassed eight hits in the elimination game just over 12 hours after falling 3-2 in a nail-biter to No. 1 seed Campbell Thursday night. Seven of those eight hits were singles, excluding Fisher’s leadoff home run, but the Highlanders made the most of their scoring opportunities against Big South Pitcher of the Year Sydney Backstrom, going 2-for-5 with runners in scoring position.

Taylor provided Longwood’s lone hit, while Destiny Martinez, Leah Powell and Kasey Carr all drew walks, but none advanced past second base. Both Carr and Powell stole second base to put themselves in scoring position – and added to the Lancers’ Division I era stolen base record of 127 in the process – but Marvin escaped every single one of those jams in route to her fourth shutout of the season.

With the loss, Longwood will bid farewell to five seniors, including fifth-year starting middle infielders Kasey Carr and Destiny Martinez, and the true senior trio of Leah Powell, Mallory Odell and Arleigh Wood.

Backstrom, also a senior, will return for a fifth year as part of a veteran-laden 2022 squad that includes six returning starting position players and three pitchers.