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Chargers top Northwood 3-1, stay alive in NCAA softball tourney after morning loss

Chargers top Northwood 3-1, stay alive in NCAA softball tourney after morning loss

After a challenging and tense first day at the NCAA Division II Midwest Regional, the Hillsdale College softball team is still dancing.

The fifth-seeded Chargers rallied from a tough 4-2 loss to fourth-seeded Trevecca Nazarene in the morning opener at Grand Valley St. University in Allendale, Michigan, beating third-seeded Northwood 3-1 in an elimination matchup in the afternoon to send the Timberwolves packing from the tourney and extend their stay in the Grand Rapids area to Friday.

Northwood put pressure on the Chargers early in the contest, with four hits and a run in the top of the first inning to take an 1-0 lead.

Hillsdale answered back in the bottom of the second inning. Senior Sarah Wojcik laid down a picture-perfect bunt single to get two runners on with two outs in the inning, and the next batter for the Chargers, leadoff hitter Natalie Stepanenko, hit a double to the left-center fence to score both Wojcik and freshman Hailey Holtman, who had drawn a walk to get on earlier in the inning.

The Chargers tacked on another run in the third inning, as senior Sam Catron hit a RBI single to score Emma Johnson from third to give the Chargers a 3-1 lead.

After that opening flurry by the Timberwolves, Hillsdale locked down defensively to seal the victory. Pitcher Dana Weidinger conceded just three hits over the final six innings, striking out seven and walking three in a complete-game performance for her 21st win of the season, the most by a Charger in a season since Renae Schaffner won 26 in 1989.

Madison Stoner went 2 for 2 at the plate and Emma Johnson added a double as well for Hillsdale in the victory, the Chargers' third NCAA tournament win in school history.

The victory was especially critical coming on the heels of a 4-2 loss to G-MAC rival Trevecca Nazarene in the opener.

Hillsdale was the team that jumped on top early against the Trojans, going up 1-0 in the top of the first on an Elaine Townley single, but Trevecca answered back with three runs in the bottom of the inning and never trailed again in the contest.

The Chargers were able to cut the deficit to 4-2 in the top of the sixth on a solo home run by McKenna Eichholz, and had the go-ahead run at the plate with one out in the top of the seventh, but couldn't get the hit it needed to extend the game.

That was a common theme for Hillsdale in the loss, as the Chargers outhit the Trojans 9-7 but stranded 11 batters and struggled to come up with timely hits with runners in scoring postion.

Wojcik was 2 for 3 with a double to lead the Chargers at the plate against Trevecca, and Stoner and Johnson each chipped in two hits as well.

Weidinger was the hard-luck loser on the mound for the Chargers, going six innings with six strikeouts and two walks, and giving up just two earned runs, as the two decisive runs for Trevecca were both scored on fielding errors.

Hillsdale is now 32-18 after the two contests, and will have an off-day while the bracket sorts itself out on Thursday at GVSU. Top-seeded Grand Valley plays Trevecca and second-seeded Indianapolis plays sixth-seeded Ohio Dominican, who beat Northwood 2-1 to drop the Timberwolves in the elimination bracket in the afternoon. 

The winners of those two games advance to the Friday winner's bracket final, while the two losing teams will play on Thursday night in an elimination contest -- with Hillsdale getting the victor in another elimination game on Friday at 1:30 p.m. for its next game.

Keep your eyes on for more updates on the tournament and Hillsdale's future opponent as the bracket progresses tomorrow and Friday.

Photo Credit: Ashley Cefali/GVSU Athletics