Darton softball opens national tournament with 9-1 loss

Darton State loses to Chattanooga State in five innings

Eric Neel

Eric Neel

ST. GEORGE, Utah — The Darton State softball team spent the regular season dominating opponents with a program-record 62 home runs.

On Wednesday, Chattanooga State used the long ball to spoil the Lady Cavs’ NJCAA national tournament opener.

No. 3 seed Chattanooga used two home runs in the bottom of the fourth inning to break open a tie game, which led to a 9-1, five-inning victory against No. 13 Darton.

“Out here when you give a team a few extra outs, you can get it handed to you really quick,” Darton coach Eric Neel said.

Darton starter Sommar Wright pitched out of jams in the first and third innings, stranding four runners in scoring position to keep the game tied 1-1 — but Wright surrendered two-run homers to Izzy McCurry and Katy Richardson in the fourth inning, and the Lady Tigers never looked back.

Chattanooga (52-6) added five more runs in the bottom of the fifth to seal the victory and advance to the second round of the winner’s bracket.

The Lady Cavs, who lost for the first time in two months and had a 19-game winning streak snapped, will have to fight out of the loser’s bracket and win eight straight games over the next three days to win a national championship. Darton (45-11) plays again at 4:30 p.m. today against Butler (Kan.) Community College.

“We had just won 19 in a row coming into (Wednesday), so eight seems like a small number,” Neel said. “If anybody can win a few games and string some stuff together, we should be able to.

“We have 3 1/2, four good pitchers, so we can string something together and see if we can’t regroup.”

Darton’s lone run came in the fourth inning when Emily Church scored on an error, but the Lady Cavs didn’t score any more despite having runners at first and third with no outs.

“That was a big part of the ball game,” Neel said. “The momentum really swung there. We had a chance to get a run or two more out of that.”

Sierra Newman (2-for-2, 2B) was the lone Lady Cav to pick up multiple hits against Chattanooga ace Shelby Willard, who is now 22-0 this season.

Wright gave up seven runs and nine hits before being relieved in the fifth inning by Tiffany Bishop, who surrendered two runs and two hits.