COLUMBIA, Ky. ---- Cassie Daniels set a new career-high in strikeouts for a second consecutive game, striking out 17 Grand View batters to lead the Auburn Montgomery softball team to a 5-2 victory over the Vikings to start the NAIA Opening Round regional at Lindsey Wilson.
The top-seeded Warhawks (42-10) will now face the second-seeded host Blue Raiders at 1 p.m. tomorrow, with the victor earning a spot in the championship game on Wednesday. Lindsey Wilson defeated third-seeded Davenport 6-2 earlier in the day.
"We're going through some growth right now, starting to understand the importance of every pitch and every play," head coach Chris Steiner-Wilcoxson said. "We're relying on a lot of underclassmen to pull us through, but Cassie did a great job today to give us a chance."
The Vikings (25-25) stranded a runner on second in the opening inning after Daniels struck out cleanup batter Jessica Grochala to end the frame. The strikeout started a stretch in which the right-hander fanned five Grand View batters in a row. She allowed only two hits in the game, while working around five walks to move her season record to 20-4. Her previous strikeout high was 15 in a no-hitter against Belhaven last Sunday at the Southern States Athletic Conference tournament.
"We didn't rely on her all season to pitch every game, so she's a little fresher than most of the pitcher's who've been throwing all year," Steiner-Wilcoxson said. "She's really coming together. She's worked hard all season to be ready in this spot for us."
AUM got on the board in the bottom of the third. Emma Johansen laid down a perfect bunt single towards the pitcher's mound to lead off the inning. Two batters later, Laci Driggers crushed her 11th home run of the season to open up the scoring.
Lauren Shaw added another run in the following inning with another long ball to left. The homer was the second of the season for the freshman catcher.
Grand View had its only rally in the fifth inning. After a pair of strikeouts to start the frame, Daniels issued a free pass to No. 9 hitter Justina Glick. Anna Arnold then lifted a home run to left to cut the lead to 3-2.
Jordan Sandquist was then hit by a pitch, and she stole second before Daniels induced a long fly ball to the warning track in left from Dacia Miller to end the threat.
The Warhawks regained some breathing room in the bottom of the sixth. Leslie Kelly began the inning by hitting a ground ball which went right through the legs of Grochala at third. Haley Johnson then hit a bunt single over the head of the first baseman, advancing to second on the throw after pinch-runner Ainsley Faulk made it from first to third.
Kayla Hale hit a sacrifice fly to make it 4-2, and Holly Saint, in as a defensive replacement for Shaw at catcher, hit a clutch RBI single up the middle to add another run.
AUM would leave the bases loaded in that inning, but Daniels closed the door in seventh. Needing two strikeouts for new career-high, she quickly fanned the first two batters. Grand View then worked two walks, however, to bring the tying run to the plate. After a brief scare with a long foul ball down the left field line, Daniels struck out Sandquist swinging to end the game.
Johnson and Johansen each had a pair of hits for the Warhawks. Jyssica Pepper added her team-high ninth stolen base of the year.
The Vikings will play Davenport in a loser's bracket game at 4 p.m. tomorrow. The winner of that contest will take on the loser of AUM/Lindsey Wilson for the other spot in Wednesday's championship game.
"I think the more comfortable we get, the more confident we get at the plate, the more we're going to hit," Steiner-Wilcoxson said. "We're not playing to our full capability yet, but I'm very proud of them for pulling it out today."