Lions' pitching holds Jennies offense down in MIAA softball win

May 1—EDMOND, Okla. — No. 9 Missouri Southern State University started the MIAA conference tournament with a 3-2 win over No. 8 University of Central Missouri on Wednesday at the University of Central Oklahoma.

The Lions' offense didn't string multiple hits together, but it got hits when it needed. Down 2-1 in the top of the fifth, Abby DeSanto doubled into left center field to drive in Carsen Tinkler from second base.

"I was crowding the plate and they were still throwing me outside, so with a runner on second, I was just trying to get them in," DeSanto said.

"She had a plan and she executed. She was in a certain spot in the box. She was crowding," MSSU head coach Hallie Blackney said. "She's one of our hardest workers, and she really stepped up today. All of her hard work paid off."

Later in the inning, Kylee Jacks slapped a single into left field and third-base coach Cody Barham took a risk and waved DeSanto around third despite the hard-hit line drive from Jacks.

UCM's Abby Allnutt fielded the hit and fired a perfect throw right on target to catcher Laney Killpack. The throw beat DeSanto home but she was able to beat the tag with her slide to the outside of home plate. That gave MSSU a 3-2 lead.

"You have to have situational hitting. Our defense made plays. Our pitching was phenomenal, and then when they gave us an inch we took advantage of it," Blackney said.

Now the Lions will meet top-seeded Rogers State University at 11 a.m. Thursday. RSU won both meetings in the regular season.

"We're definitely excited. We're expecting to win tomorrow. We don't care what the name is, we're going to come out and play hard," DeSanto said.

"It's huge. Getting that first win is amazing," MSSU pitcher Kara Amos said. "We're not settling."

Freshman pitcher Kiki Pickens held the Jennies' offense at bay in the final three innings and earned the win for the Lions. Pickens pitched four innings and was tagged with one earned run. She only allowed two hits and walked two batters while striking out four.

This was Pickens' first time back in the circle after missing more than a month of action.

"All year, pitching and defense is how we won games," Blackney said. "Kara (Amos) did great. Kiki came back and did great. It was great to see her out there. Her mentality is great."

Pickens ended the game with a strikeout of Jadyn Sheffield. UCM's standout freshman Taylor Thompson was on deck if Sheffield reached, and Thompson would've had a chance to win the game with a walkoff home run.

"Cody (Barham), Josie (Tofpi) and I talked before the game if (Thompson) was up with a runner in scoring position, we were going to walk her," Blackney said.

But Blackney said she would've trusted Pickens in that spot against Thompson had the situation came to that.

Senior Amos started the game and pitched into the fourth inning before being replaced by Pickens. Amos allowed two hits, surrendered one run and hit two batters with a pitch.

"UCM was a great team. We knew we had to come out strong. We needed great pitching, great hitting and great defense," Amos said. "And that's what we came out and did."

The final hit Amos gave up was a leadoff double to UCM's Allnutt in the fourth. Allnutt took third after the ball glanced off of Jacks' glove in center field. Then Young had to get the ball and that allowed Allnutt to advance to third base.

A single from pinch hitter MaKenzie Cooper later in the inning would drive Allnutt in to tie the game.

Later in the fourth, another pinch hitter came up in Emma McCall, and her ground ball to third base drove in a runner from third to give UCM a 2-1 lead momentarily.

The next half inning is when DeSanto and Jacks got the Lions back on top.

Errors came back to bite UCM. DeSanto's first at-bat she sent a long fly ball to left field and Allnutt was unable to complete the catch as she tracked back toward the wall. The ball hit in and out of her glove. Adrianna Young sacrificed DeSanto to third and then a pass ball allowed DeSanto to score the first run of the game.

"That was just a really competitive softball game. We had a couple errors that hurt us and gave them a couple runs," UCM head coach Susan Anderson said. "Man, to have a three-hit performance, we just came up on the wrong side. Tip your hat to Missouri Southern. They got the hits when they needed them."

When MSSU scored in the fifth, again, an error plagued UCM. Carsen Tinkler led the inning off with a pop up to the pitcher but Paige Petefish was unable to catch it. She backpedaled a few steps and, again, the ball was in and out of the glove of a Jennie defender. Tinkler reached base and ultimately came around to score on DeSanto's double.

The Lions' defense shined in the contest with some tough plays on the move in the outfield and infield.

"Even though we have a lot of kids in different positions because of injuries, our defense has stepped up the entire year," Blackney said.