OKLAHOMA CITY - It has been a rare occurrence this season for the Freed-Hardeman Lady Lions to struggle in late innings, but during the NAIA National Tournament Opening Round, Bellevue (Neb.) managed to find a way to make that happen.
For the second straight day, the Bruins took the lead after the fourth inning and ended Freed-Hardeman's season by handing the Lady Lions a 9-2 defeat in an elimination game in the Oklahoma City bracket.
As it did yesterday, momentum shifted with one swing of the bat.
FHU held a 2-1 lead heading into the bottom of the fifth inning before Bellevue's Amanda Neumann hit a three-run home run with two strikes and two outs to give the Bruins the lead for the first time in the game.
The sixth inning wasn't any better for the Lady Lions as Bellevue scored five more times and essentially ended the hopes for a comeback. FHU was retired in order in the seventh, bringing its season to an end.
The Lady Lions took an early lead on a two-out single by Amber Vansandt after Shelby Cummings and Mercedes Norfork drew back-to-back walks. Bellevue answered with a run in the second, but Bailey Morgan's solo home run helped FHU retake the lead in the fourth inning.
Sarah Elizabeth Cousar retired the side in the fourth but ran into trouble in the fifth. A two-out walk to Alyssa Matoba came back to haunt her as Neumann followed with her go-ahead home run.
FHU had a chance to make up the runs in the top of the sixth after getting runners on first and second with one out, but Neumann again came up big - this time pitching in relief, retiring Allie Carpenter and Natalie Nelson to end the threat.
Earlier in the day, the Lady Lions earned their first-ever national tournament win scoring six runs early to take a 9-2 victory over Hastings (Neb.).
Vansandt had a big game, going 3-for-4 with a two-run home run in the third. The shot, her fourth of the year, gave FHU a 6-0 lead which was plenty for Cousar (27-6) who went the distance with 11 strikeouts.
Freed-Hardeman took a 4-0 lead after two innings, scoring all four runs with two outs in the second as Cousar and Summer Cole both delivered two-run singles. Three more runs were tacked on in the sixth on an RBI single by Kohnley Wade and a two-run single by Cummings.
Carpenter had three hits in the win while Wade had two as the Lady Lions pounded out 14 hits.
Unfortunately, it was Bellevue that ended up swinging the hotter bats in the final game of the day. Morgan was the only Lady Lions with multiple hits (two) in that game.
The loss brings to an end the careers of six Lady Lions - Cummings, Norfork, Vansandt, Caneisha Turner, Summer Cole and Savannah Cole - who will leave as the first senior class to play in the national tournament. Vansandt ended her career on a high note personally, going 6-for-9 in the tournament with five RBIs.
FHU finishes the year with a 32-9 record, the best single-season winning percentage (.780) of any team in program history.