By GARY STALLARD
When Angelina College shortstop Nikki Whitehead snagged a line drive for the final out in Thursday’s elimination game, thereby booking the Lady Roadrunners their second trip to the national tournament in Utah, head coach Mark Mattson simply crumpled to the dirt along the first-base line.
It’s his and wife Barbi’s – AC’s associate head coach – second trip to the NJCAA Division I World Series, but this one meant even more to Mattson, who earlier this season lost his father.
“My dad was the one who taught me fast-pitch softball, and I’m so grateful to him for everything,” Mattson said in a post-game interview. “I know he and my mom are watching down on us the whole time. While I wish he was here to see this, I know he was watching, and I’m very proud.”
The Lady Roadrunners clinched the at-large bid with a thrilling 5-4 win over San Jacinto College, getting an RBI single from Rachel Agnello in the bottom of the fifth inning to take the final lead. McKenna Fryar, pitching on a bad foot, nailed things down over the final two innings to earn the complete-game win in the circle.
AC fought back from a 2-0 deficit, finally breaking through with four runs in the fourth inning. Riley Garrett blooped a single to right field to drive in the Lady Roadrunners’ first run, Agnello pushed a line-drive bunt past a charging infield for another, and Jessica Husband drew a bases-loaded walk to give AC a 3-2 lead. Nikki Whitehead’s groundout to short plated the fourth run of the inning.
San Jacinto tied the score in the fifth on a two-run single from Samantha Martinez, but AC right fielder Husband made a spectacular catch to end the inning. McKenna allowed one Coyote single over the final two innings to clinch the win and a return trip to St. George, Utah and the World Series.
The win set up an anticlimactic game with Tyler Junior College immediately afterward. The Lady Apaches clinched the tournament championship with a 6-3 win over the Lady ‘Runners despite a two-run homer from Kaylee Ancelot.
Both Tyler College and Angelina College will represent Region XIV at the national tournament. In 2014, the Lady Roadrunners became the first Texas team to win the NJCAA Division I title.
“We’re just excited,” Mattson said. “Five-year reunion, right? It’s hard to explain the feeling when you’re in these positions. Elated would be a good word, I guess.
“But we’re going there to compete. We’re not just going there to participate, so expect us to play as hard as we can. We’ll give this town our best.”
The national tournament in St. George opens May 22 and runs through May 25. AC will learn of tournament seeding later this week.
The e-mail address for AC’s Sports Information Director is firstname.lastname@example.org.