Ally Marcano is used to the cold weather. Natalie Murphy is not. Together, the two helped Flagler College split a home softball series against third-ranked North Georgia on Thursday afternoon.
Flagler won the first game 2-1 as Murphy laced a 2-1 pitch off the left field wall with one out in the first inning to score both runs. Marcano, who leads the Peach Belt Conference in wins, innings pitched and strikeouts, handled the visitors from there.
North Georgia won the second game 4-0.
On an afternoon where temperatures were in the 40s at first pitch, the freshman from Middletown, New York, went the distance, allowing four hits and an earned run and striking out eight to help Flagler win for the third time in five conference contests.
“I hit my spots that I’m told to go to,” Marcano said after improving to 16-4 on the season. “I have a defense that backs me up.”
Marcano retired 14 of the last 15 batters she faced. A leadoff walk to North Georgia cleanup hitter Kaylyn Anthony in the seventh inning made the final frame intriguing, but Marcano was undaunted. Shelby Hammontree flew out to left for the first out, Jessica Finch grounded out to short for the second and Kali Turner ran the count full before flying out to left fielder Megan Miller to end the game.
Flagler (20-15, 3-3) played flawless defense in the first game, but committed four errors in the second.
Flagler senior Callie Reed pitched four scoreless innings in the Saints’ loss, but ran into trouble in the fifth after walking Turner. A sacrifice bunt and a pair of wild pitches brought in pinch runner Hannah McSwain with the first Nighthawks run in 10 2/3 innings.
On two occasions Reed came close to escaping the fifth with only one run. But, her two-strike pitch to North Georgia shortstop Sydney Sprague was deposited over the wall in left-center for a home run that made it 2-0. One batter later, Stephanie Hartness scorched a one-hopper into Reed’s glove, but the senior’s throw toward first was errant and Hartness was aboard with two outs.
North Georgia (23-7, 3-2) earned the split, by preventing the Saints from advancing anyone to third base. Nighthawks freshman Amber Johns pitched 6 1/3 scoreless innings before Game 1 starter Kylee Smith came in to record the final two outs.
Moments after Flagler pinch hitter Tracy Caccavale flew out to left field to end the series, Flagler head coach Kristen Overton and North Georgia’s Mike Davenport tore into their teams for not taking advantage of opportunities.
“When you give up five hits, you should come out with a sweep,” Davenport said. “Credit Flagler, the leadoff walk in the first inning and the young lady that hit the double, that was a nice at-bat by her.
Flagler recorded two hits in Game 1 and three in Game 2.
In Game 2, Alli-Ann Bigale’s infield hit with no outs in the bottom of the sixth put two on for Saints slugger Mackenzie Conley. She hit the ball hard, but it was directly at McSwain at third, who touched the bag and fired to first for a momentum-sapping double play.
“It doesn’t matter how many hits you have, it matters how many hits you have when you have runners on base — unless you’re hitting long balls, which in the last few games we haven’t,” Overton said. “Timely hits, or at least putting pressure on the defense, that’s what we have been emphasizing. … Fly balls don’t put pressure on them. Hit the ball hard, give them a chance to make a mistake; it’s a lot harder to field a ground ball than it is a fly ball.”
While that may be true, North Georgia has yet to commit an error in Peach Belt play this year.
Thursday’s win was the first time in four years the Saints beat a team ranked in the top five. Flagler beat Armstrong Atlantic 8-7 on April 13, 2013. Flagler’s victory was almost five years to the day — March 13, 2012 — since the Saints beat North Georgia while the Nighthawks were nationally ranked.
Splitting a series against the 2015 national champion was a cause for optimism for the Saints, but things do not get any easier for the club that has dropped three of its past four games. Flagler has a weekend road trip to Lander (10-18, 2-4) on Saturday and a Sunday afternoon doubleheader an Armstrong State (15-6, 5-1) team that has the highest slugging percentage in the conference. The Saints are well aware they need manufacture runs any way they can.
“Hit by pitch, get a walk, find a hit, find a hole, you have to get people on to score runs and that’s what we need to do,” said Murphy, the only Saint to record a hit in both games Thursday.