COLUMBUS, Ga. ---- Cassie Daniels allowed just two hits in her sixth complete-game shutout of the season, and Leslie Kelly had a key two-run triple in the fifth inning to propel the Auburn Montgomery softball team to a 3-0 win over Mobile in its opening game at the Southern States Athletic Conference tournament.
The Warhawks (40-8) will next play Spring Hill in a winner's bracket game at 1 p.m. tomorrow afternoon. Mobile (28-21) will face either Southern Wesleyan or Brewton-Parker in a loser's bracket matchup at 11 a.m.
"I thought we had great at bats all night," head coach Chris Steiner-Wilcoxson said. "I would have liked to have seen a few more hits with runners in scoring position, but we had a lot of people playing in their first conference tournament game so it was nice to get off to a good start. I was a little nervous about having to sit around all day, but they were really fired up and ready to play."
AUM's matchup was the last of six games played today at R.G. Jones Field in Columbus. Mobile had defeated Southern Wesleyan earlier in the day to advance to the contest.
The Warhawks plated their first run in the second inning. After Haley Johnson reached on an error, Kelly and Kayla Hale followed with back-to-back singles to give AUM the lead.
That would turn out to be the only run Daniels (18-3) would need. The Valley Grande native exacted revenge against a team which beat her twice in the regular season. Daniels walked the leadoff batter to start the game, but then retired 11 consecutive Rams, taking a no-hitter into the fifth. She finished with seven strikeouts, registering her fifth complete game in her last six starts.
"I'm really proud of Cassie stepping up for us," Steiner-Wilcoxson said. "She did a good job adjusting to the strike zone tonight, and she stayed down in the zone. Those were the keys for her."
AUM gave Daniels some breathing room with a two-out rally in the bottom of the fifth. Katie Spain and Johnson each singled to set the stage for Kelly. After falling behind 1-2 in the count, the junior designated player hit a liner to the opposite field. The ball evaded a diving Ashley Middleton and rolled to the wall, giving Kelly her first triple of the season and the Warhawks a 3-0 lead.
"She was a great junior college hitter, and we've really believed in Leslie all season," Steiner-Wilcoxson said. "She's got postseason experience from taking her JUCO team to the World Series. We've been working on her patience at the plate. She got a pitch up and away and was able to get good meat on the ball."
Daniels shut the door over the final two innings to seal the win. Kelly and Emma Johansen each had a pair of hits for AUM, while Johnson scored two runs.
Kamaron Strickland (15-10) surrendered three runs (two earned) on eight hits in a complete game for the Rams.
The Warhawks will now face Spring Hill for the fifth time this year. AUM took three of four from the Badgers in the regular season. Spring Hill advanced to tomorrow's matchup with a 4-0 win over Brenau. The winner plays at 5:30 p.m. for a spot in the championship game on Saturday.