CANYON - There is one team in the driver's seat for the NCAA Division II South Central Region 1 Championship and - for the first time in school history - that is the Tarleton State TexAnns.
With an 8-4 win over Cameron on Saturday afternoon, Tarleton State won its second consecutive regional game to advance to championship Sunday at Schaeffer Park in Canyon. This is Tarleton's first trip to the regional championship game in school history.
"Making it to the championship game is certainly a thrill," said head coach Julie Mata. "They have already gone farther than any TexAnn team ever has and they still aren't satisfied. I think they already want to play again."
Tarleton State, the No. 8 seed in the South Central region, took the field against the No. 4-seeded Cameron and picked up right where it left off in Friday's victory over West Texas A&M.
"This was such an exciting game," said Mata. "As a coaching staff, we absolutely loved the fire our team played with last night and we encouraged them to just keep climbing. This team plays with nothing to lose and everything to gain, so it was great to see them bring that to the field again today."
The teams traded zeroes in the opening frame before Tarleton State cracked the run column in the second on a sacrifice fly from Delaney Wayland for a 1-0 Tarleton lead. Haley Freyman kept the Aggies off the board in the ensuing half-inning to set up an offensive explosion over the next two innings.
Erika Menchaca ripped a 2-RBI double off the right field wall in the third inning before Wayland started a three-run fourth inning with a solo blast to deep center field. Katelyn Conlee and Nyka Wood capped off the three-run fourth with an RBI single and an RBI sacrifice fly, respectively, to plate Melody Mayse and Savannah Stech for a 6-0 Tarleton State lead heading into the bottom of the fourth.
An inning and a half later, Cameron got its only scoring in the bottom of the fifth with a grand slam home run off the left field foul pole. An error on the next play forced Tarleton State to dip into the bullpen for Shelby Hedrick, who pitched Tarleton State out of the jam with a pair of grounders.
Looking to regain the momentum in the next half-inning, Tarleton State got the lift from its coaching staff.
With runners on second and third and two outs, Menchaca lifted a fly ball to deep left field that was squeezed for the third out. While the Aggies celebrated and cleared the field, Mata kept her offense on alert as she appealed a substitution infraction on the left fielder that wasn't properly reported to the home plate umpire.
The ruling went in Mata's favor as Menchaca drew new life at the plate with a full count and the TexAnns took full advantage.
Menchaca took the next pitch low and outside for a walk to load the bases and Hedrick made the Aggies pay with a two-out, two-run single through the left side to bring home Mayse and Stech for an 8-4 lead heading to the bottom of the sixth.
The TexAnns kept the momentum as Hedrick sat down the Aggies in order over their final two innings, including strikeouts of the No. 3 and 4 hitters to end the game in the seventh.
Tarleton State will play the championship game at 1:30 p.m. Sunday afternoon from Schaeffer Park, but will not know an opponent until late Saturday. Check out @TarletonSports on Twitter for updates or visit the softball schedule page after the 6:30 p.m. game from Schaeffer Park this evening.