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Spartans push Lancers to elimination game

Longwood Softball

Capped by a walk-off single from All-Big South second baseman Tiffany Domingue in the bottom of the seventh inning, second seed USC Upstate edged out third seed Longwood 5-4 in game one of the 2021 Big South Championship Thursday at Brinkley Softball Stadium.

The win sends USC Upstate (27-15) to Friday’s winner’s-bracket semifinal where they will face the victor of Thursday afternoon’s showdown between No. 1 seed Campbell and No. 4 seed Radford. Meanwhile, Longwood advances to an elimination game Friday morning at 11 a.m. against the loser of that Campbell-Radford matchup.

The opening-round loss came on the heels of a third-place league finish for the Lancers (26-27), who have won five of the past seven Big South championships, including two as the No. 3 seed and one – their first, in 2013 – after a day-one defeat. Longwood is 14-2 all-time in the tournament when facing elimination and has navigated at least one loss in four of its five championship runs.

“This was a tough loss, without question,” Longwood head coach Dr. Megan Brown said, who is coaching in her first Big South Championship tournament after taking over the program in August of 2021. “We still have a clear path, so we just have to keep taking one step forward at a time. Those who do are always champions.”

USC Upstate made Longwood’s path back to the title game include at least one more step Thursday, emerging victorious from a battle of two Big South Goliaths whose past five meetings have all been decided by one run. The latest matchup of that burgeoning rivalry put the Spartans’ Big South-leading offense up against the reigning Big South Pitcher of the Year in Lancer ace Syndey Backstrom (19-12) and took Domingue’s walk-off heroics to decide a winner.

In the final-inning duel between Backstrom and Domingue, the USC Upstate second baseman laced a bases-loaded single through the left side, past the glove of a drawn-in, diving Mason Basdikis at third base, to send in Marisa Soterakis for the game-winning run.

That game-winning single was one of only five hits Backstrom allowed in her league-leading 24th complete game of the year, but it was the one that now has the Spartans just one win away from reaching the Big South Championship game for the first time. Backstrom, who led the Big South in wins, opponent batting average, innings and shutouts, struck out nine and limited USC Upstate to just two earned runs but fell victim to back-to-back fielding errors in the first inning.

Those two miscues gave the Spartans two extra outs to play with that inning and led to two unearned runs, which came back to haunt the Lancers with USC Upstate’s All-Big South second-team ace Mallie Brown (12-4) in the circle. Brown shook off Longwood’s first-inning rally – which included a two-run homer from Alexis Wayland that was the first of the tournament – and allowed just two hits the rest of the way. One of those was another home run, a game-tying solo shot off the bat of senior Leah Powell that knotted the score 4-4 in the top of the sixth, but the USC Upstate offense once again responded with another rally one inning later.

Domingue’s game-winning RBI was one of two runs she drove in, with the other coming on a go-ahead RBI triple in the bottom of the fifth.

Big South Freshman of the Year Bre Cooper and first baseman Madison Lanoux also drove in runs to back a complete game from Brown, who struck out seven and held Longwood to three hits and four runs, three of which were earned. Four days after leading USC Upstate to a 4-3 win that blocked a Longwood sweep of the regular-season series between the teams, she fanned seven Lancers Thursday in her first career Big South Championship appearance.

Longwood will now head into Friday’s elimination game on short rest, with first pitch set for 11 a.m.