By Robert Wilson

       Junior first baseman and Lewisburg High alumnus Ellie Jones hit a two-run single in the bottom of the fifth inning to lift No. 6 seed Belhaven to a 4-3 victory over No. 2 seed and host East Texas Baptist in Game 1 of the best of three series for the NCAA Division III national softball championship Tuesday afternoon at Marshall, Texas.

Ellie Jones photo by: Bob Smith

Belhaven, 47-8, and East Texas Baptist, 46-2, play Game 2 Wednesday at 11 a.m. Game 3, if necessary, is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Belhaven lost to East Texas Baptist 3-2 in the second round before winning three straight games to reach the national championship series.

       “We came out and set the tone early,” said Kevin Griffin, in his 14thseason as Belhaven’s head coach.  “Defensively, we made some plays early in the ball game. (Junior outfielder) Mary Moore (Widemire, a Presbyterian Christian School and East Central Community College alumnus) made a big play in the first inning, cutting the ball off in the gap, and holding them to a single. If they get a double, I’m not sure how that inning would have unfolded. That was a big play in the game. And then the one she made over her shoulder was one of the best plays in program history. (Junior outfielder) Madi Miller (a Brookhaven Academy and Copiah-Lincoln CC alumnus) making that play up against the wall in the last inning will go down as one of the best players in program history as well. She had a great jump on it, had no fear and make sure she hauled it in before she hit the wall. I was really proud of our offense today. We came up with some big hits. Allie Jones had two big hits and (senior All-American third baseman) Allie Gordon had two hits. (Senior All-American pitcher) Kennedy (Carruth) will tell you she didn’t have her best stuff today. We beat them today with screwballs and curveballs and without her best pitch working. Whenever she gets that going, I feel like we will be even harder to beat.”

Ellie Jones photo by: Bob Smith

       Carruth allowed only four hits, but East Texas State senior shortstop and leadoff hitter Tristen Maddox hit a three-run homer in the top of the fifth inning for a 3-2 lead. But Belhaven bounced back with two runs in the bottom of the fifth inning on Jones’ two RBI single.

       Now, Belhaven is one win away from its first national softball championship in school history. 

       “It’s going to take the same effort,” Griffin said. “We’ve got to forget about this one. We said the same thing the other day when we beat Linfield in Game 1. We have to forget this one and we our minds right and come back and play tomorrow. They are playing here at home. They are going to have the crowd behind them. But we brought a big crowd from Jackson, Mississippi. We have said it over and over. We feel like this is our home away from home. Our crowd showed up in full support today to make it feel that way. We need to play good defense and have a great approach at the plate. We don’t know who they will throw. They might throw (Madalyn) Melton, who threw against us earlier in the week. Regardless, we are going to come out and play Belhaven softball. We are going to have a plan and we are going to stick to it and try to grind out another win and see what happens. We know this series is not over.”

“I knew today was going to be hard,” said Carruth, who improved to 31-5. “I have been saying for years we are the best two teams in the country, but we were in the same conference or same regional. I didn’t have my best stuff today but looking around and everyone screaming for me and telling me they would have the next play was just very surreal and made everything better.”