CONWAY - Charleston Southern became the first-ever seven seed to win the Big South Softball Championship, defeating No. 1 Coastal Carolina, 3-1, and earning the conference's automatic bid to the NCAA Championship, on Sunday at the Coastal Carolina softball stadium.
Charleston Southern (27-31-1) is now 2-1 all-time in Big South Championship games and won its first championship since the inaugural tournament in 1988. The Buccaneers never trailed throughout the championship, beating No. 2 Longwood twice and the top-seeded Chanticleers. Coastal Carolina (41-15) fell to 6-7 in championship games.
Cheyenne Gandara (11-11) pitched a complete game to lead the Buccaneers to the title and take home tournament MVP honors. She tossed seven innings of three-hit softball, allowing one run and no earned runs, while striking out seven Chanticleer batters. Ashley Bagwell (14-9) was credited with the loss, throwing four innings and giving up two runs, one earned run on five hits.
"I am so proud of these kids, absolutely proud of these kids, they fought for four straight games and they believed and that was the key," said CSU coach Shane Winkler. "We believed and we fought and did exactly what we came here to do.
"Cheyenne (Gandara) was outstanding all weekend long. She was the best pitcher here and we relied on her a ton to get three wins and a save. The kid was so clutch, and pitched better and better the more jams we got in. When she had runners on base she was absolutely tough as nails."
Stevi Johnson set the table for the Buccaneers to open the scoring in the top of the fourth inning with a bloop single to left field and advanced to second on Hayes Holdsworth's sacrifice bunt. Georgi Delio came up with the key hit, sending a 2-2 pitch back up the middle, allowing Johnson to score from second on the play when Brooke Donovan's throw squirted past Amanda Daneker behind the plate.
Charleston Southern added to its lead on what would be the game-winning RBI on Ari Tedesco's single to right field, driving in pinch runner Brittany McPherson for a 2-0 lead.
Coastal Carolina got on the board in the bottom of the inning, cutting the Charleston Southern lead to 2-1. Sara Rasley represented the fourth consecutive Chanticleer leadoff batter to get aboard when she walked. Maicie Hahn reached on a sacrifice bunt when third basemen Natalie Yonan was unsuccessful trying to pick off the lead runner at second. Jessie Winans then laid down the second sacrifice bunt of the inning, advancing Rasley and Hahn to third and second, respectively. Gandara got Bri Chiusano to strike out swinging and it appeared she had gotten out of the inning when Kiana Quolas hit a ground ball to third. The ground ball, however, was mishandled allowing Quolas to reach and Rasley to score.
Gandara limited the damage to one run by getting Morgan Noad to strike out looking to end the inning.
Small ball led to the third run of the day for the Bucs in the top of the fifth inning. Jessica Brock led off with a single up the middle against Quolas, who came in to relieve Bagwell to start the inning, and she advanced to second on a wild pitch and to third when Stephanie Sbardella put down the third sacrifice but of the day for Charleston Southern. Brock scored on the second wild pitch of the inning from Quolas, pushing the Buccaneer lead to 3-1.
Charleston Southern picked up timely pitching and key defensive plays throughout the game as Coastal Carolina got the lead off runner aboard in each of the first five innings. The Chanticleers, however, were only able to plate one run the entire game and stranded seven runners in scoring position. It was not until the final two innings that either team recorded a three-up, three-down defensive inning, as CSU did in the sixth and the seventh to close the game out.
Delio led the way at the plate for the Buccaneers with a 2-for-2 game at the plate, and a Brock also had two hits on the day. Daneker, Donovan and Noad recorded the only hits of the day for the Chanticleers.
Named to the All-Tournament Team for CSU were Cheyenne Gandara (MVP), Amanda Matsumoto, Stephanie Bergmann and Stephanie Sbardella.